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CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP (KDKA) — It was mid-June just two year ago and Christine Valenta and son, Nick, went to Kohl’s in Cranberry Township to do a little shopping.

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“Nick went his own way as teenagers will do,” Christine says, “and when I was heading towards the checkout line, I called him on his cell phone and said, ‘I’m heading for checkout, bring whatever you have and we’ll check out.’ By the time he got there I was on the ground.”

When then-13-year-old Nick got there, everyone was standing around and he could see that his mom was in trouble.

Christine says, “At that point, Nick jumped into action and the employees called 911.”

Nick was into Martial Arts, and to become an instructor, he had just gone through a CPR course. Eventually, two nurses stepped in to assist, but initially, Christine says, “It was Nick, it was all Nick.”

Strangers not stepping in to help is more common than you might think. A University of Pennsylvania study says that’s even more true if the victim is a woman.

The Penn study indicates only 39 percent of women suffering from cardiac arrest in a public place were given CPR, as opposed to 45 percent of men. Not surprisingly, the study goes on to indicate men are 23 percent more likely to survive. CPR rates for cardiac arrests at home showed no gender difference.

While the study does not make an empirical connection there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that social taboos play a part. There is a hesitancy to touch a woman out of respect for not wanting to come in contact with her breasts. There is also concern that women are more fragile than men and could be hurt by the heavy compressions. And, finally, there’s a belief that clothing must be removed for CPR and the issue there is obvious.

Nicholas Grabacz is the regional disaster officer for the American Red Cross of Western Pennsylvania. He has spent a lot of years doing CPR training and says there never should be an issue of touching a woman’s breast.

Garbacz says a person giving CPR puts one hand on top of the other and interlaces the fingers, the heel of the hand is then placed on the chest between the breasts and rapid compressions are made.

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“You don’t come in contact with anything,” Garbacz says. “You go down about two inches with the compression and do it over and over again.”

Grabacz says it’s not a gentle process, but “your number one thing is to keep that blood pumping. So could there be a cracked rib, sure. But that could happen in a man, a woman, or a child.”

As for clothing, he says, “Don’t take any of the clothes off. None of that is necessary, actually if you have buttons on that might help.”

While the Red Cross can certainly understand the hesitancy, in the case of CPR, seconds can be deadly.

“Think of this, without going into action that person could die,” Garbacz says.

Valenta is alive because her son knew what to do and was not afraid to act.

“If anyone ever told me that the child I brought into the world was going to save my life, I would say no way. As a parent that is the last thing, at least, I ever thought about. I always felt responsible for my children. If someone would have told me that he would end up saving my life. I would have said no way,” she said.

She says people need to be blind to the gender issue because the next person might need your help.

“Everybody matters and you need to get involved, and you need to act immediately,” she said.

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To find a CPR training course contact the American Red Cross at (800) RED-CROSS or visit: