Owusu-Ansah Teaches Bystander CPR to Communities of Color

June 20, 2024

Sylvia Owusu-Ansah, associate vice chair of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Department of Pediatrics, and assistant professor of pediatrics and of emergency medicine, School of Medicine, is passionate about her patients and is on a mission to empower communities by teaching bystander CPR (bCPR). According to the National Institutes of Health, Black and Hispanic people are less likely to receive potentially lifesaving bystander CPR than white people. Owusu-Ansah’s article in the New England Journal of Medicine describes how she and a team of Pitt faculty and UPMC trainees are saving lives by teaching bCPR to children from marginalized communities and student athletes.

Since 2021, Owusu-Ansah has hosted “Save A Life Day” at Arsenal Middle School in the Lawrenceville neighborhood in Pittsburgh, where she and a team of physicians teach students how to perform bCPR. Owusu-Ansah, a board-certified pediatrician and pediatric emergency medicine physician, is also the medical director of Prehospital Care and EMS at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

The event is through the middle school’s Career Help Advancement and Achievement Mentorship Program and is a collaborative effort with UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pitt’s Department of Emergency Medicine and its School of Public Health, and UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Foundation.

Owusu-Ansah said that children as young as 9 have the capability to perform CPR. At Arsenal Middle School, students aged 11 to 14 were introduced to bCPR training and were taught about the “bystander effect”—the concept that people are less likely to intervene in emergencies if other people are present. Students were empowered to help victims and to perform bCPR immediately when someone goes into cardiac arrest.

The curriculum expanded in 2023 when Owusu-Ansah began a collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh Athletics Department and local bCPR educators to teach student athletes how to perform bCPR. With cardiac arrest as the most common cause of student athlete death, educating and equipping athletes can lead to intervention for their teammates.

In the last year alone, Owusu-Ansah and her partners have educated more than 500 Division I student athletes and more than 1,000 community members. A Pitt student athlete, Ellie Breech, intervened when her father went into cardiac arrest and cited the bCPR training as the reason why she was able to save his life. In a survey conducted at Arsenal Middle School, the results showed that the students’ knowledge of CPR increased to 75% from 12.5% before the bCPR curriculum was implemented.

“How great would it be to know that if you went into cardiac arrest anywhere in the world, anyone would be able to save you? My hope is that everyone will be able to learn how to save a life through bCPR, because every life is worth saving, and people who go into cardiac arrest deserve a chance to live again,” said Owusu-Ansah.

Read more about Owusu-Ansah’s CPR training efforts.