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Goal: CPR, first aid training for ushers across diocese

Cathedral training a response to football player’s collapse

Published: March 23, 2023   
Larry Taylor
Usher Chuck Byrd (left) and rector Father Joseph de Orbegozo (middle) practice CPR while usher Kevin Gorman (right) looks on during training March 6 at the Cathedral of St. Andrew in Little Rock.

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s collapse on the football field Jan. 2 pushed two Little Rock Catholics to do something in the community to ensure others know what to do if someone goes into cardiac arrest.

Cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death in the United States. When the situations strike, a swift response can give someone like Hamlin a second chance of life.

Parishioners Larry Taylor and Dr. Lee Wilbur have begun to conduct life-saving training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) in conjunction with the Divine Mercy Health Center.

The first trainings were offered Feb. 27 and March 6 for clergy, altar servers and ushers at the Cathedral of St. Andrew.

“There was so much interest” in CPR after Hamlin’s collapse, Taylor said. “Dr. Wilbur and I decided to get something going.”

During the training sessions, Wilbur led the hands-on activities with the assistance of training videos, which follow the American Heart Association’s CPR and First Aid Anywhere Program, said Taylor, a member of the Cathedral of St. Andrew. The program’s goal is to “teach lay adults, teenagers and children CPR and the use of automated external defibrillators,” a medical device used to resuscitate someone in case of a medical emergency, he said.

From those sessions, Wilbur said the program’s participants have seen “100 percent improvement so far” as the course starts with a pre-test and ends with a post-test to measure the program’s effectiveness.

Wilbur said the first two sessions were required for the Cathedral’s ushers, “but any parishioner could have signed up.” In addition to CPR for all ages, first-aid for choking and other techniques also were taught as a part of the program.

Wilbur, a board-certified emergency physician and member of Christ the King Church in Little Rock, said the program is comparable to a basic program offered by American Red Cross.

“Technically, the course is an American Heart Association training, not a certification,” he said.

Wilbur said his goal is for “sanctuaries (to be) safer by having CPR and first aid-trained ushers throughout our diocese.”

From the March 6 training, Chuck Byrd, an usher and Cathedral parishioner, said he learned first aid for “things from a break to a cut, choking, stopping bleeding” and CPR methods. Opiate overdoses are another situation that trainees are taught to address until an ambulance arrives. 

“I feel much better after taking it,” Byrd said.

Taylor said they will offer more training around the state as interest arises.

The program costs $30 per participant with a maximum of 20 participants per class. Wilbur said non-medical personnel can teach a training session, but currently the classes are taught by Wilbur with the assistance of Debbie Meiklejohn, a registered nurse and parishioner of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Little Rock.

The center has primarily operated between St. Theresa and Our Lady of Good Counsel parishes in Little Rock. Wilbur said Divine Mercy Health Center hopes to open its first clinic location this year. Founded by Wilbur, the non-profit Divine Mercy Health Center focuses on the dignity of each patient by assisting the most vulnerable in Little Rock through health screenings and setting health goals.

For more information on the program and how to sign up for a training session, contact the Divine Mercy Health Center at (501) 420-2334 or .

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