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My Heart Stopped and Now I Want to Save More Lives

How the power of preventative measures can lead us to a new way of thinking about heart health

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February is full of hearts. You see them everywhere. Paper hearts on school windows, chocolate hearts and gift boxes in the store aisles, Valentine’s greetings filled with words of affection. 

February is all about hearts. It’s also the month my life changed forever. 

On February 14, 2007, at the young age of 27, my heart stopped without warning. Thanks to the swift action of a co-worker and timely response of local responders using an Automated External Defibrillator, my heart restarted. 

It all Begins with Education

Heart related illnesses are among the most common health related illnesses individuals will face. In fact, cardiac arrest is our nation’s leading cause of unexpected death. Every day, 1,000 Americans suffer cardiac arrest. Only 10 percent survive. 

The first step in saving someone from cardiac arrest is knowing what to look for. The day my heart stopped, I collapsed. Everyone stood stunned and unsure of what to do. 

Who can blame them? I always assumed sudden cardiac arrest was a heart attack. But cardiac arrest isn’t a heart attack. It is defined as cessation of cardiac mechanical activity that can occur from both cardiac and noncardiac causes. 

Of the more than 600,000 heart disease related deaths each year in the U.S., approximately half are contributed to sudden cardiac arrest. Despite its high death rate, sudden cardiac arrest can be reversed. You just have to know how to prevent it.

Preventative Measures are Key

Swift preventative action greatly increases the chances of survival in sudden cardiac arrest cases. 

For me, this was vital to shaping my story. Doctors told me the only reason I was alive was due to the quick action of bystanders and first responders (including Ryan Sutter of Bachelorette fame). 

Specifically, three critical preventative steps saved my life: 

  1. CALL. Right away, 911 was called and first responders were alerted to the situation.
  2. PUSH. A co-worker immediately began administering compressions. Once the Vail Fire Department came, they continued CPR. 
  3. SHOCK. Paramedics arrived minutes later and used an External Defibrillator, which sent electric shocks through my body. In my case, it took three shocks to restart my heart. 

These seemingly simple steps, done quickly, can be the difference between life and death. If you only call 911, fewer than 6 percent will survive. But if you call 911, start CPR, and use the defibrillator within 4 minutes, you can get survival to 75 percent.

Let’s Link Education with Preventative Measures

If the use of preventative measures is so effective, why do we still battle such high mortality rates related to sudden cardiac arrest? I believe it’s due to lack of awareness and resources. 

Nearly half of cardiac arrest events are witnessed. Therefore, the importance of bystander education is critical. Millions of unnecessary deaths have occurred because our population is uneducated and ill-equipped to deliver lifesaving preventative measures. 

To change this narrative, we must empower and engage citizen volunteers. Specifically, we can do this through: 

  • Accessible training. Many people are reluctant to commit time and money for long certification courses. We need simplified, free, accessible training. One such example is the #SaveMoreLivesChallenge through Starting Hearts which educates participants on CALL, PUSH, SHOCK techniques. 
  • Access to resources. Only one in 10 citizens knows the exact location of a defibrillator. Defibrillators need to be in your face and commonplace. We must invest in programs that work to place these life saving devices in high traffic public locations and fund the equipment and maintenance of each device.
  • The importance of tracking. Sudden cardiac arrest is not a reportable condition nationwide. Because of this, we lack data needed for vital research and treatment options. By requiring tracking for sudden cardiac arrest cases, we are better equipped to raise awareness and educate on how to respond properly. We cannot do this without collaboration across public, government and corporate stakeholders.   

It’s Time to Save More Lives

Many people don’t act to save a life due to fear or inexperience. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Through education, access to resources and training, we can stop sudden cardiac arrest in its tracks. 

My heart stopped that day. Now I have the chance to save more lives. And so do you.  

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