No Heart Stoppers Allowed
For Lynn Blake, the Vail Valley was a pretty safe place to experience sudden cardiac arrest. She now wants to make it the world’s safest.
In 2007, when Blake was 27, she collapsed of a sudden cardiac arrest while at work in Vail Village. Fortunately for her, there was a person nearby who knew CPR, and Blake just so happened to be right across the street from Vail Fire Department Station No. 2.
“A bystander performed CPR and Vail firefighters ran across the street with an automated external defibrillator (AED) and saved my life,” said Blake. “And because of that potentially tragic event, I decided to start an organization called Starting Hearts, providing free CPR and AED education to anyone who wants it.”
But that wasn’t immediately following her episode. First, she was carted around and cared for by her new husband, Matt Blake, for the next six months.
Matt Blake considers it a blessing. “I think we’re really fortunate that we experienced something so trying while we were so young in our married life,” he said. “It really made us appreciate each other in a way that I think a lot of couples never really do.”
Lynn Blake says Matt was a real trooper. “He did everything for me,” she said. “I couldn’t drive, and he took me everywhere I needed to go.”
These days, Blake drives. You can’t miss her on the road, actually — she drives a large bus called the “Heart Rod” around the valley for Starting Hearts. It doubles as a mobile CPR and AED training unit. “People come on board and I teach them CPR, or how to use an AED,” she says.
She has joined forces with Dr. Larry Gaul, VVMC cardiologist and the U.S. Nordic Ski Team Physician. Their first meeting was Gaul attending to Blake during her cardiac arrest episode. He says the AED was a paramount factor in saving her life.
The two officially kicked off their campaign to make Eagle County “the safest place to have a sudden cardiac arrest” on February 14, 2013, the 6-year anniversary of Blake’s arrest. The heart-health morning gave participants an opportunity to receive an EKG; carotid artery and vein ultrasound; and cholesterol and triglyceride tests.
Participants also heard Blake’s personal story of survival. “If I were in any other location, if I were still on my honeymoon, if the Vail Fire Department had not been right across the street, or if any other aspect of this day had been any different, I would not be alive today,” she said. “A day has not passed without reflecting on the blessings that I have received.”
Dr. Gaul spoke on the effects of high altitude on the heart. “The problem that we run into [in Vail] is we have a lot of residents who travel extensively,” said Dr. Gaul. “Remember when you come back, you have to re-acclimatize. That’s a big deal. Don’t hit the gym right when you get back to elevation, that’s not a good idea ... If you spend a day in Denver, you decrease your risk of acute mountain sickness by 40 percent. That intermediate altitude offsets a lot of the problems.”
American Heart Association National Physician of the Year from 2002, Dr. Terry Gordon, spoke about his experiences with CPR and AED in saving lives, emphasizing his personal belief that every police and sheriff vehicle should be equipped with an AED, and the officer trained to use it.
“Sixty percent of the time law enforcement get to a medical emergency first,” he said. “They can deliver the life saving shock three and a half minutes quicker than if you wait for the paramedics ... If you’re shocked by a cop, your chance of walking out of the hospital is 10 times greater than if you wait for the paramedic. Every law enforcement vehicle in your community should have an AED in it.”
A WOMAN WITH A PLAN
Blake’s plan with Starting Hearts is five-fold. Sudden cardiac arrest experienced outside of a hospital is not a “reportable condition,” according to the Center for Disease Control, so it’s not mandated that any agencies provide data about sudden cardiac arrest. Blake says this could help give us an understanding about survival rates in different settings.
The first component of her plan is creating a database of that info, via volunteers and responding agencies who report it. “Without a sudden cardiac arrest registry, we have no idea what the survival rates are,” says Blake.
Part two would be getting people involved in it. “We need to mobilize our entire community … all the towns, Vail and Beaver Creek mountains, law enforcement, schools, businesses, neighborhoods, individuals, law enforcement, we need everyone to participate,” she says.
Third is CPR and AED education for everyone in our community. “We need to have people practicing compressions on manikins — we’d love to have 50 percent of our population trained and re-trained every year,” she says. “After observing the CPR techniques of thousands of people, even doctors and medical professionals do not push hard enough (in performing chest compressions). It really takes hands-on practice on a manikin to effectively respond. Getting certified and doing it two years ago is not recent enough.”
Fourth is increasing access to defibrillation. “AEDs need to be strategically placed throughout Eagle County; this includes emergency response vehicles, schools, businesses, neighborhoods, restaurants, hotels, at the top of every chair lift, public events and more, and each should have consistent and extensive signage directing people to the location of the AED,” says Blake.
And finally, fifth is a program called Neighbor Saver that’s bringing it all together. “We want to take the people who have learned how to perform CPR and use an AED, and register them into a system where they would be able to receive alerts from dispatch whenever there’s a cardiac arrest nearby,” says Blake. “Your chances of survival decrease by 10 percent with every minute that goes by after a cardiac arrest. The average response time is usually eight or more minutes, so if they’re waiting on emergency personnel to arrive, they’re not going to survive.”
If the Starting Hearts’ plan is executed and Blake’s vision carried out, it will make Eagle County the safest place in the world to experience a sudden cardiac arrest. But she needs community help. Get involved by visiting her website at www.startinghearts.org, or mailing a donation to Starting Hearts, PO Box 4318, Avon, CO 81620.