Helen Eppehimer, left, recently turned 100, but still helps with teaching CPR classes in Cape May County with her daughter, Naomi Nichols.
Helen Eppehimer is rare, because at 100-years-old she is still living on her own, looking decades younger than her age, making jokes and giving out sound advice. What makes this centenarian absolutely amazing is her desire to still share the message that knowing CPR can save a life.
For 42 years, Helen Eppehimer taught CPR in Cape May County. By the estimation of the American Heart Association, Eppehimer has taught thousands of people the lifesaving skill. And according to Nikki Wenzel, Life Support Training Center Administrator at Shore Medical Center, many of those she taught have themselves become instructors. “We have instructors who have told us that Helen is the reason they teach CPR.”
For Eppehimer, saving lives and teaching others the American Heart Association life saving CPR techniques are a part of her DNA. She spent years alongside her husband Bill Eppehimer, the former president of the Lower Township Rescue Squad. They taught CPR classes together.
“We did everything together. Every weekend the ambulance was parked in our driveway. The alarm would go off and we ran to the truck and we were off,” said Eppehimer. She recalled vividly a call the couple received of a baby drowning in a backyard pool. “We got there and the adults were standing around and said it had been ten minutes and the child was gone. Bill just pushed past everyone and started working on that baby. He got him to throw up and as all the water came out and he started breathing again. I will never forget that run.” She added that they went back to see how the baby was doing several weeks later. “The baby had no idea what happened but we were so glad to see him happy and healthy.”
Bill Eppehimer passed away 22 years ago but Helen has carried on his mission of helping to save lives. She teamed up with her daughter, Naomi Nichols, a former US Air Force Medic and EMT who returned home after her 20-year military career and began teaching CPR as an instructor for Shore Medical Center in Cape May County.
Nichols said she teaches CPR to the restaurant and hotel workers, day care and nursing home employees. “Everyone should know what to do in case of an emergency,” said Nichols.
Until just a few years ago Helen Eppehimer was still teaching CPR classes. Now Nichols teaches the classes but Helen, with her decades of knowledge, keeps a watchful eye on the students when they break into groups to do hands-on training on the adult and infant sized dummies or on the Automated Electronic Defibrillator (AED). Eppehimer will remind students where their hands should be placed and how deep they should be doing compressions as a metronome keeps the beat for the students to help them establish a cadence to their compressions. She is not shy about reminding her daughter if she thinks Nichols has missed something. Nichols laughed and added, “She is great to work with and I am amazed how much she still has up there in her noodle.”
“I do the best I can,” said Eppehimer. “I always liked teaching new things. We want to make sure they know what to do in an emergency, we want them to know what to do before it happens.”
Some things have changed in teaching CPR over the decades. The equipment is smaller, lighter and easier for the trainers to move around. The AED has become such an important tool in lifesaving, giving the person using the equipment detailed instructions. Since COVID 19, rescue breathing is discouraged and the person administering the CPR is instead doing compressions until the EMTs arrive with a mouthpiece. What has not changed is Eppehimer’s drive to see more people CPR trained.
So how does this really amazing woman manage to look great and stay connected? She smiles and says no drinking, no smoking, Oil of Olay every day, wearing a hat on the beach and staying involved. Chris Kozmor, Director of the Shore Medical Center Life Support Training Center said, “She does not let age define her. Helen is really encouraging to others that you do not have to get to a certain age and stop; whether it is life-saving efforts or anything else.”
When Eppehimer visited the Shore Medical Center Training Center she was presented with flowers and certificates of appreciation for her decades of selfless service, but it was a small box that made the long time instructor smile broadly. Dozens of current Shore Medical Center CPR instructors who learned under Eppehimer’s tutelage sent personal notes thanking her for teaching them CPR, helping them to be prepared in an emergency to save a life and encouraging them to pass on that knowledge. Eppehimer remembered her students over the years and admitted she was very surprised but tickled pink they remembered her.
Eppehimer is impossible to forget and this life-long educator has no plans to slow down. “I do what I can,” she says. She will continue to assist Nichols at her CPR training classes while quietly inspiring those she meets.