Herb Lommen (second from left) helped lead CPR training and heart education at Washington Square in February.

Herb Lommen knows what it’s like to survive heart disease.

The Valley Catholic teacher is doing everything he can to help others face off against America’s deadliest assassin and come out alive.

Lommen, 64, a health and physical education teacher at the Beaverton school, not only trains his eighth-graders in the latest hands-only CPR technique, he sends them into their own homes and out into the community to teach it to others.

In the past four school years, Lommen and his students have taught more than 6,000 people how to save the lives of someone in cardiac arrest. Those who have seen him in action say Lommen’s impact actually stretches across Oregon as organizations including the Beaverton School District follow his lead.Valley Catholic students taught hands-only CPR to about 700 people at Washington Square in February.

“We’ll never know how many lives that Herb’s actions have saved,” said Mike Duyck, chief of Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue. “He’s created an army of rescuers.”

Washington County Health and Human Services will honor Lommen’s efforts next week with the “Public Health Ambassador Award.” (See more information about the awards below.)

TVF&R public information officer Alisa Cour wrote in nominating Lommen: “Herb’s program is making a difference in the lives of cardiac patients and in the lives of the students he empowers to teach this life-saving skill to their friends, family and community. TVF&R is grateful for community partners like Herb Lommen, whose passion for molding his students to become leaders in cardiac arrest survival has improved patient outcomes and quality of life for those who live inside and outside Washington County.”

Studies show that a person’s odds of surviving cardiac arrest improve dramatically when a qualified person begins performing CPR within minutes of an attack, but it’s not always possible for agencies such as TVF&R to reach patients that quickly.

Lommen and TVF&R officials know of at least two lives saved by people who learned hands-only CPR from Valley Catholic students. There may already be others they don’t know about, and there most certainly will be more lives saved in the future. This year’s students have taught the method to about 1,600 people since November alone, including hundreds during a big event at Washington Square in February, and they will bring it to many more during a late April trip to the northern Oregon coast.

Lommen said his students are proud of having the potential to save lives.

“This is something they really look forward to,” he said. “Some of the kids really get into it.”

“It helps save people’s lives, and that’s really important,” said Valley Catholic eighth-grader Sam Gfroerer, who has taught at least 50 people to do CPR without mouth-to- mouth resuscitation, a technique that is simpler and has proven just as effective. “People seem to get it. It’s a quick process.”

Another classmate, Sarah Jones, already has taught the CPR technique to more than 100 people this school year, thanks in large measure to Lommen’s encouragement.

“He’s really into it,” Sarah said. “He makes us feel pumped about doing it.”

Lommen also extends his influence far beyond Valley Catholic, and not just when he and students hit the road to teach CPR in other communities.

He has packaged his curriculum for fellow teachers so it meets educational requirements across Oregon and is more easily adopted in other schools. He and students also have lobbied in Salem to make it a state law that Oregon students must learn CPR to graduate, which is a requirement in a number of other states.

Lommen said he has always taught CPR in his classes during two dozen years at Valley Catholic.

About five years ago, as hands-only CPR was replacing the more complex method, Chief Duyck came to Lommen to see if Valley Catholic wanted to increase its role in helping spread the knowledge.

“It was a perfect fit for us,” Lommen said.

“They were definitely the front-runner in getting their program going,” Cour said.

Duyck looks back on that partnership as a good move.

“We look forward to a day when everyone in the fire district knows how to do CPR,” Duyck said. “Because of people like Herb, that’s actually possible.”

And to think heart disease might have prevented Lommen from teaching others to save lives from ... heart disease.

Lommen had congestive heart failure about seven years ago when a viral infection attacked his heart. Doctors told him he probably survived only because he was physically fit when stricken.

“I always tell (my students), ‘If I have a heart attack, you better save me.’”

County awards

As part of National Public Health Week, Washington County Health and Human Services will present its 13th-annual Public Health Recognition Awards at 2 p.m. Thursday, April 9, in the Public Services Building auditorium, 155 N. First Ave, Hillsboro.

This year’s awards and honorees are:

The “Public Health Ambassador Award” recognizes an individual who has raised awareness of public health issues, developed projects with a lasting impact and/or influenced systems or policy changes. The award will be presented to Valley Catholic School teacher Herb Lommen for his dedication to saving lives by teaching hands-only CPR to students who then teach it to others.

The “Partner in Public Health Award” recognizes an organization/business that has developed innovative public health programs that positively affect its employees and/or the community at large. The award will be presented to Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District and FamilyCare, Inc. for collaborating to help low-income families become physically active and learn about healthy eating.

The “Emerging Public Health Leader Award” recognizes a youth or youth-related group that promotes healthy communities and making healthy lifestyle choices. The award will be presented to Rebels for a Cause for promoting a tobacco-free world by influencing through education and inspiring through example.

The “Washington County Employee Award” recognizes an exemplary Washington County staff member who has gone above and beyond his or her regular work responsibilities to make a difference in public health. The award will be given to Deputy Medical Examiner Adam Knapp for his exemplary efforts in creating and supporting a thriving Suicide Fatality Review Team in an effort to reduce suicides in Washington County.

The public is invited to the awards ceremony and to a reception with interactive and educational public health displays that will follow.

For more information, call Rose Sherwood at 503-846-4921.

By Eric Apalategui
Beaverton Reporter
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