Don Sussman founded the company Know CPR after participating in a CPR course he found to be overly expensive and ineffective in imparting the knowledge and skills that can be essential to saving the life of a family member, friend, colleague, or even a stranger. Some 20 years later, Know CPR is successfully providing CPR, automated external defibrillator (AED), and first aid skills to people around the nation in an informative and affordable manner. In this interview, Mr. Sussman tells Irrigation Leader about his company’s services and how it is successfully adapting to remote classes in the COVID19 era.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your background.
Don Sussman: I have a master’s degree in international finance. For the last 20 years, I have owned and managed Know CPR.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about the history of Know CPR and why you started it.
Don Sussman: I started the company in response to my own experience in a CPR class. Earlier in my professional life, I was a tennis instructor, and I wanted to ensure that I was trained to prevent anyone from dying on my tennis court. However, I really didn’t like the way the CPR class I took was taught, and I also thought it was too expensive. Basically, the class consisted of an instructor turning on a video for us to watch while he headed off to Starbucks. When he returned and asked if anyone had questions, I said, “Yes, lots of them!” The bottom line was that I immediately realized I could learn and teach these skills better than he could, so that’s what I did. The whole concept behind my approach is to make CPR instruction affordable; interesting; and, most of all, informative.
Irrigation Leader: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business?
Don Sussman: It has made us completely rethink and reconfigure our business. Our former model was to teach groups of three or more people on location at their places of business. With COVID-19, people don’t necessarily want us coming to their locations. We also can’t gather too many people together or have too many people sharing the same equipment. Because of all that, COVID-19 caused our sales to drop more than 99 percent, almost overnight.
We had to rethink our model, and what we’ve done is to pivot toward remote training. Remote training is not online training. Online training is when people go online and watch a video about CPR. Remote CPR training involves using technology to teach live classes via Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or other two-way audiovisual platforms. We take it one step further by actually mailing customers a training mannequin ahead of the class session. They use that mannequin in front of the camera with a live instructor watching and coaching them from the other end. It’s as if our instructor is right there with them. Customers are still getting hands-on training and immediate feedback on ways to improve their skills. Now, about 85 percent of our business is remote. The positive result of this is that we are now able to do business nationally rather than just regionally.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us more about the mannequin you send to your customers. Is it the standard CPR mannequin that people are familiar with?
Don Sussman: That was one of the stumbling blocks in the transition to remote classes. A typical CPR class costs less than $50, but a fully functional adult CPR mannequin with moving lungs costs $100–$150, an infant mannequin costs $100, and an AED trainer costs $100. I was faced with the question of how I would get this expensive equipment to someone and ensure that they would either pay for it or pay the expensive cost of shipping it back. A secondary question was whether we would even want to reuse equipment, given the risks of transmitting the coronavirus. Ultimately, we came up with the idea of creating single-use mannequins. They’re primarily made out of out of sponges and light wood. We can have an entire packet of infant, child, and adult mannequins plus an AED trainer shipped to someone for $10 plus shipping. The customers can keep the mannequins.
Irrigation Leader: So they are standard-size mannequins made out of more cost-efficient materials?
Don Sussman: Correct. Hands-on, mannequin-based training is designed to simulate the depth and rate of effective chest compressions and ensure that the student can successfully open the airway and administer rescue breaths to a victim. Our mannequins include a sponge core to achieve the resistance and depth needed for students to perform compressions correctly and confidently. A plastic lung is attached to the mannequin’s airway so that its chest will visibly rise if the student correctly administers the rescue breath. We have also developed a free app that, when used with our mannequins, provides the student immediate feedback on whether they are providing compressions too slowly, just right, or too fast.
Irrigation Leader: How many remote trainings have you done?
Don Sussman: The number is continually growing as people become aware of the availability of our remote classes. We have quickly gone from zero to 50–60 per month. The effort is gaining traction. Our business is headquartered in Virginia, but just today I have set up remote classes and sent our training equipment to customers in Boston; Florida; Seattle; and Washington, DC.
Irrigation Leader: What kind of lead time do you require to ensure that the mannequins and other equipment arrive ahead of the training sessions?
Don Sussman: Typically, the shipping of the mannequins takes 3–4 days at the more affordable $12–$15 shipping rates. We have had customers request overnight shipping, which usually costs them an additional $15–$20.
Irrigation Leader: How are the remote training sessions priced?
Don Sussman: We’ve always tried to keep our training affordable—that has been a hallmark of my business throughout its history. A basic CPR and lifesaving skills class for a small group of four or more people runs $39 per person. If first aid training is included, the price is $57 per person in a small group setting. If a customer is considering a solo, one-person remote class covering infant, child, and adult CPR and first aid, the price is $77 plus the $10 cost of the mannequins and related shipping, which brings the total to about $95.
Irrigation Leader: How often should people have their training refreshed?
Don Sussman: CPR is one of those skills that a person hopes they never need to use, but that everyone should have. You can never predict when or where you might encounter a situation requiring CPR and lifesaving skills, so people should be aware of what they can do to help. CPR can increase a person’s chances of survival if it is started shortly after their heart has stopped beating. If no CPR is performed, it only takes a couple of minutes for the person to become brain-dead and for vital organs to fail due to a lack of oxygen. CPR isn’t going to fix the underlying problem that is affecting a person, but it buys precious time for advanced medical care to arrive or for an AED to be used. Because CPR is a skill that is not used routinely by most individuals, it is recommended that it be refreshed every 2 years at minimum. Some jobs require training every year. The key is that everyone who has never taken a CPR course should do so and that they should regularly refresh those skills thereafter.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about your first aid training.
Don Sussman: In addition to CPR, we teach first aid. CPR is what you do when you encounter a person who shows no obvious signs of life and is not breathing normally. Basic first aid, on the other hand, is what you do if someone has a broken bone, broken nose, bloody nose, cuts or abrasions, or something like that. Most people are more likely to encounter situations requiring basic first aid intervention than they are to need to perform CPR, so it is an important skill to have as well. We offer and encourage people to take advantage of both kinds of training, but we do not require customers to take both in combination. Many employers today require training in both skills, either of their own volition or because governmental regulations require it. Even if it is not legally required, businesses like restaurants often want their personnel to have these skills in case they need to help a colleague who has cut themself with a knife or something of that nature. We’ve also trained farm employees who work around big machinery. We aren’t training customers to be doctors and
nurses, but we’re trying to empower them to know how to react in the case of an emergency.
Prior training is not required to participate in either class. Generally, the CPR training runs 1–2½ hours, while the first aid class runs 1–1½ hours. Times vary depending on the size of the class and previous experience of the students. As I mentioned, the classes do not have to be taken in tandem, though they often are, and both can be taken remotely.
Irrigation Leader: Do you provide or recommend people keep first aid kits on hand?
Don Sussman: Sticking to our objective of keeping things informative and affordable, we generally suggest that people put their own kits together based on their interests and occupations. The problem with buying ready-made kits is that they are often oriented toward a specific activity, such as camping or sports, or toward a certain profession, like auto repair, and as a result they are often quite expensive. Our recommendation is to seek out a kit that matches your interests or occupation, look at the label to see what’s included, and then go purchase those items independently and build your own kit. That way, you’ll save money and get exactly what you need, and you can put together multiple kits for your home, vehicles, and travel.
Irrigation Leader: How accessible should first aid kits be?
Don Sussman: They need to be accessible. If your first aid kit is not accessible, it’s as if you don’t have one. The same is true of allergy medications and anything else that needs to be used quickly in an emergency situation.
Irrigation Leader: Do you provide any other kind of health-related training?
Don Sussman: CPR training today includes AED training. An AED device evaluates a victim’s heart rhythm and determines whether an electrical shock may be necessary to help reset their heart. If so, it delivers a shock. Years ago, CPR and AED trainings were usually given separately, but because the two really go hand in hand, AED use is generally included in CPR training today. As I mentioned earlier, CPR buys time until help comes, but alone, it typically doesn’t fix the underlying problem. What can help temporarily fix the problem is the shock delivered by an AED. For every minute that passes before a person receives AED assistance, their chance of a full recovery decreases by 10 percent. In a perfect world, everyone would be walking around with their own little AED just in case they happen across someone requiring its use. Of course, that’s not realistic because of cost and convenience issues. But as the cost of AEDs continues to drop, they have become far more widely available and are common in high-traffic areas such as schools, libraries, airports, buses, and even office lunch or conference rooms. However, just like first aid kits, AEDs need to remain obvious and accessible if they are ultimately to help save lives.
Irrigation Leader: What is the cost of an AED today?
Don Sussman: I have seen AED devices range from several thousand dollars on the high end to closer to $1,000 on the low end. I don’t sell AEDs, because I don’t want anyone to think that receiving CPR, AED, and first aid skills are in any way tied to their purchase of an expensive AED machine.
Irrigation Leader: Tell us about your trainers.
Don Sussman: Right now, all our trainers have at least 10 years of experience teaching CPR. We have found that there are several attributes that our successful trainers demonstrate. They are friendly, caring, and helpful; they are knowledgeable on the topic; they understand and believe in the importance of the information they are imparting; and they recognize that every student has a different way of learning, so they adapt their teaching to ensure that everyone leaves our classes with a sense of accomplishment. Most of our instructors also currently work as teachers or have been teachers in the past. It’s important that our instructors are able to teach in a way that people can easily understand.
Irrigation Leader: Do your students receive a certification after successfully completing the training?
Don Sussman: Yes. Once someone has successfully completed the remote or in-person mannequin training and the cognitive learning section, they receive a certificate that is valid for 2 years.
Irrigation Leader: What should everyone know about your company, Know CPR?
Don Sussman: CPR is an essential lifesaving skill that could be necessary at any time. Everyone should want to be prepared to save a family member, friend, or professional colleague. Know CPR makes it simple, easy, and affordable. It doesn’t take much time to learn this essential lifesaving skill, and if you ever have to use it, you will always be satisfied to know that you were well prepared to help someone in need.