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Merrick student saves grandmother by performing CPR

Zahrah Ibrahim, 17, a senior at Merrick's Sanford H. Calhoun High School, performed lifesaving CPR on her grandmother after she fainted at a basketball game on March 19, 2017. Ibrahim ran to her grandmother, Graciela Perlaza, 78, who was pale and slumped over. She spoke Sunday, April 9, about how she kept her cool and kept her grandmother alive. (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

A senior at Merrick’s Sanford H. Calhoun High School is being praised for performing lifesaving CPR on her grandmother after she fainted during a basketball game.

Zahrah Ibrahim, 17, was seated at the Calhoun gym March 19 during her sister’s basketball game when she heard her mother yell for help from across the court.

Ibrahim ran over and found her grandmother, Graciela Perlaza, 78, pale and slumped over in her seat. Not knowing what to do, Ibrahim’s father, Sam Ibrahim, tried pouring water on Perlaza to see whether she would stir. When she didn’t respond, the senior at Calhoun High asked her father to lower Perlaza onto the gym floor.

Zahrah Ibrahim then checked to see whether her grandmother had a pulse.

She couldn’t find one.

“I knew I had to do CPR,” Ibrahim said. “At first I was like, ‘I can’t.’ But my dad encouraged me and said you have to do it because no one else knew how.”

Ibrahim started the compressions, pushing down on her grandmother’s chest to the beat of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive,” like she had learned in gym class.

After about a minute, Perlaza came to. She was taken to the hospital, where doctors said she had passed out from an irregular heartbeat, according to Sam Ibrahim. Perlaza is recovering at home, he said.

“I think as a parent, I couldn’t be any more proud of my daughter than I am right now,” said Sam Ibrahim, 45.

For the past five years, students in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District have been required to take CPR courses, which are funded by the Robbie Levine Foundation, according to Calhoun’s principal, Nicole Hollings. Beginning in the seventh grade, students learn how to perform CPR and use an external defibrillator in their physical education classes every year, Hollings said.

Robbie, 9, of Merrick, died of cardiac failure during a Little League practice in 2005.

“You never know when it’s going to come in handy,” Zahrah Ibrahim said of her CPR training. “I never thought that I’d ever have to use it on a person until I had to on my grandma.”

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