John Hersey High School student spreads CPR awareness through community event

It took only a harrowing moment and the ensuing fallout for her family to light a motivational fire in John Hersey High School sophomore Shyla Sood that promises to burn brightly for decades to come.

The moment occurred a few years ago, when Shyla’s father, a previously healthy physician, suffered a heart attack that his daughter says could have killed him had he not been in a location where he received immediate emergency care.

“Seeing my father that sick was really hard for me and my family,” said Shyla, who was an eighth grade student at the time. “It made me want to learn more about heart disease and what it is.”

While Shyla’s father has fully recovered and made numerous lifestyle changes, Shyla has forgotten neither the trauma nor the lessons learned. Instead, she is using all she has learned about heart health to spearhead a campaign for public awareness. Her efforts take several forms — including the recent “Hersey’s Orange Goes Red” event, hosted by Hersey, at which community members could learn the basics of CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

The Hersey administration’s willingness to make the event public, Shyla said, was the key to drawing people from throughout the community. The event was not for CPR certification, a process requiring more time and financial resources. Rather, it was geared, Shyla said, toward promoting awareness and instilling confidence.

“You don’t need certification to save a life,” she said. “Someone in dire need doesn’t care if you are certified or not. While getting certified is a good thing, this event is more about empowering people to know that they can do CPR and showing them how to do it correctly; it’s a way for people to learn or get a refresher for those who have been trained.”

About 30 community members participated in the event, which was organized by Hearts for Tomorrow, a Hersey club founded by Shyla, in cooperation with the American Heart Association (AHA) and strong support from Hersey administrators, who, in turn, deflected credit to Shyla.

“Shyla drove this initiative and is responsible for its success,” said Dr. Patty Grow, Hersey’s associate principal for Instruction. “We need more students like Shyla in the world!”

The CPR event represents just one facet of Shyla’s work.

She and other Hearts for Tomorrow Club members raise awareness among their peers and raise money through such efforts as selling heart-healthy popcorn at school events, including show choir, of which she is a member.

Shyla also is currently immersed in the American Heart Association’s annual Teen of Impact campaign, a nine-week blind competition in which teens build campaign plans, recruit impact teams, and inspire their networks to support the association’s work. In early April, the AHA will name as Teen of Impact award winner the nominee who is judged to have made the greatest impact nationwide in promoting the association’s work. Shyla has set an ambitious fundraising goal, knowing that each dollar raised will help further research and education on heart health.

While Shyla would welcome that recognition, her core aim is to relentlessly raise awareness.

“Every person who feels confident in administering CPR is one more person who can potentially save a life,” she said.

So committed is she to the cause that Shyla — already a walking encyclopedia of facts concerning cardiac health and risk reduction — envisions a professional career to match her intense interest. She plans to major in premed and then attend medical school in the long journey to become a cardiothoracic surgeon.

“I’ve always had passion for medicine,” she said, “and I’m using this as a turning point to catapult myself into that career.”

For more on Shyla’s fundraiser, visit

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