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Call Push Shock: Starting Hearts Raises Awareness of Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Connie Steiert Vail Valley Medical Center

On Valentine's Day 2007 Lynn Blake was embarking on a new job in Vail Village when she had a rude awakening. The 27-year-old suffered sudden cardiac arrest. Fortunately for her someone trained in CPR stepped forward and kept her heart beating until emergency personnel arrived with a defibrillator.

If someone dropped in front of you unconscious with no notable pulse would you know what to do? Some 325000 people die every year of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) in the United States. And contrary to popular belief it strikes people of all ages.

“I did not know a thing about cardiac arrest. I didn't know what it was” Blake said.

Now she knows firsthand about sudden cardiac arrest.

The more she found out the more she wondered why more people weren't educated about SCA the leading causes of death in the U.S. Just a few months after Blake's sudden cardiac arrest area pro biker Mike Janelle in the prime of his life died of SCA.

“It's a lot more common than people realize” Blake said. Yet she found “no one's really educating people about cardiac arrest.”

That's why she founded the Starting Hearts Foundation partnering with the Vail Valley Medical Center and area emergency services. Starting Hearts is a non-profit dedicated to saving the lives of SCA victims through communitywide CPR and AED (Automated External Defibrillation) education and access.

“Vail Valley Medical Center embraces Lynn's mission” said Doris Kirchner CEO and president of Vail Valley Medical Center. “VVMC is in the business of saving lives and Starting Hearts can have a direct impact on that mission by engaging the community to help recognize and react to SCA appropriately.”

Community key to saving lives
Nearly 60 percent of cardiac arrests are witnessed. Most people know to call 911. But if that's all you know about saving someone from SCA the victim's chance of surviving is slim. It is estimated 95 percent of cardiac arrest victims die before reaching a hospital if they do not receive shock treatment such as from a defibrillator.

That is why the response of bystanders is so critical to saving lives. Yet Blake found the vast majority of people aren't trained in CPR or using an AED. CPR classes tend to be taken only by those in jobs that demand the skill. Even if a layperson struggles to find a nearby course it is difficult Blake explains. Finding an AED is no easy task either.

To address these issues Starting Hearts acquired a decommissioned bus and created the HeartRod a mobile CPR/AED training unit sponsored by Vail Valley Medical Center. Now Blake a certified instructor travels to community events Eagle County Schools and businesses teaching CPR and AED classes.

“People aren't going to come to me I need to be able to go to them” Blake said.

Blake also created the event “All You Need is Heart” which will take place on Feb. 14 at The Sebastian in Vail. The event focuses on personal heart health including more than $1200 worth of heart screens such as EKG's ultrasounds and cholesterols test. There are also feature presentations on endurance sports and the affects of high altitude overcoming life's challenges and savings lives in Eagle County. The event is $150 per person and is a fundraiser for Starting Hearts Foundation.

Save more lives
Starting Hearts will launch the ambitious “Save More Lives” campaign.

“Our goal is to annually educate 25000 people in Eagle County” in CPR and AED Blake said. As part of the campaign Blake decided to apply the type of lessons every child has grasped.

“If you ask anyone what to do if they catch on fire they'd respond 'stop drop and roll.' Starting Hearts came up with a similar unforgettable message for SCA: 'Call push and shock.'”

Dr. Lawrence Gaul is the Starting Hearts medical director. He was the cardiologist who treated Blake when she came into the Vail Valley Medical Center during her cardiac arrest episode.

“It's simple” Gaul said explaining Call push and shock. “Call 911. Do rapid compressions in the middle of the chest and shock the person. When someone has a cardiac arrest the most important thing needed is shock.”

That's why over the next year the Save More Lives campaign will focus during on placing portable AEDs in strategic public places around Eagle County so anyone can find the nearest AED in emergencies.

When Dr. Gaul traveled to Monaco for a medical conference he was surprised to see this tiny country filled with street signs everywhere pointing to the nearest AED. By 2015 when the World Cup arrives in the Vail Valley Dr. Gaul and Starting Hearts hope to have AEDs similarly available.

To Blake it is most rewarding when someone comes and tells her one of the classes she taught made a difference. There was the lady who took her class and was able to remove an object stuck in the throat of her choking grandchild through CPR. And the little girl who took one of her courses through the Youth Foundation and went home and practiced CPR with her family.

“I encourage everyone in this community to get involved and participate in the Save More Lives campaign” Blake said. “If everyone gets involved we really can do it.”

To participate in Save More Lives find out about CPR and AED classes or to donate contact Starting Hearts by emailing or calling (970) 331-3983.