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Inspired by Damar Hamlin and their son's near tragedy, a Greece family is on a mission to teach CPR

CPR training
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This stock image shows CPR training.

When Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin toppled backward onto the field after a tackle in a Jan. 2 NFL game, Rebecca Knowles was watching.

"It brought back up some trauma," she said.

As CPR was performed on the 24-year-old Hamlin, memories of Knowles' own family crisis came flooding back.

"I know what his mother was going through," she said. "I know what his brother was seeing. I know the phone call when they told them to get into the ambulance and follow us because your son cardiac arrested."

In 2007, Knowles found her then-7-year-old son, Cameron, unconscious. His heart had stopped. Knowles, a registered nurse, administered CPR.

She didn't know then that Cameron had long QT syndrome, a genetic disorder that can cause erratic heartbeats. The condition was aggravated by a medication the boy was taking at the time.

Knowles family.jpg
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From left, Mark, Cameron, and Rebecca Knowles at Cameron's graduation from a firefighter rescue course.

Thanks to his mother's training and the care provided by his medical team, Cameron survived. He is now a 22-year-old emergency medical technician who — along with his mother and father, Mark, a former Greece firefighter — teaches others how to do CPR and use an AED device.

The Knowles will be among the trainers at a free community event from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Odyssey Academy gym in Greece, 750 Maiden Lane. Participants, who can sign up for one of four sessions, will learn hands-only CPR and how to use an automated external defibrillator, or AED.

Rebecca Knowles feels a duty to pass the potentially life-saving knowledge on to others as a gesture of gratitude for the doctors and other medical professionals who helped save her son.

She estimates that in the 15 years since Cameron's near-fatal cardiac arrest, she and Mark have taught CPR to tens of thousands of people from Rochester and throughout upstate New York.

"There's no racial divide, there's no economic divide, there's no political divide," Knowles said. "It's everybody doing one thing to provide a service or learn a skill that potentially will save somebody else's life."

As of Thursday, only three of the 320 slots were still open for Saturday's training sessions. Knowles said they plan to schedule events monthly as long as there is a demand for it.

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.