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Heart Start: saving lives and educating our community
Chances are you have seen an actor in a movie portray sudden cardiac arrest. Your chances of seeing it first-hand also are likely. According to the American Heart Association, about 340,000 people die each year from coronary heart disease without being hospitalized or admitted to an emergency room. That’s about 930 people a day, and most of these are sudden deaths caused by cardiac arrest.

When it happens in real life, to one of your family members, co-workers, or to a stranger, you want to be able to help. Palmetto Health’s Heart Start program gives you the best chance for survival. In 1997, the initiative donated five AEDs, or automated external defibrillators, to Richland County Emergency Services, which then were distributed to rural fire stations in the county.

An AED is a small, portable device used to deliver defibrillation, a process in which an electric shock is applied to the heart to help re-establish normal contraction rhythm. When a person experiences sudden cardiac arrest, he or she loses consciousness, stops breathing, and has no pulse. Brain death and permanent death start to occur in just four to six minutes. With each minute that passes without defibrillation, the individual’s chance of survival reduces by 10 percent.

Since 1997, Palmetto Health has funded 15 AEDs for the City of Columbia Fire Department and Richland, Lexington and Pickens County Sheriff’s Departments.

Concerned about the startling number of sudden cardiac arrest deaths of student athletes, Palmetto Health donated AEDs to all middle and high schools in Richland and Pickens counties in 2004.

“Our vision for the Heart Start program is that we can help create a heart safe community. We cannot promise that these AEDs will save the life every time, but we are giving the person that collapses the best chance for survival,” says Terri Turk, Palmetto Health Heart Hospital director.

In 2004, the Heart Start staff taught CPR and AED training to more than 800 teachers, nurses and coaches as part of the Heart Start in schools program.

“We also provided training to the nurses in participating schools to be AED training instructors. They, in turn, educate new staff as they arrive, which is much more time- and cost-effective in the future for our schools,” explains Turk. “It is amazing to see what an impact this program has on the community.”

Turk hopes the momentum created from the Heart Start school program will continue to grow and inspire others to become involved in a heart safe community.

“I would like to see malls, recreation centers, and public facilities participate in our program. It is important to all in the community because it is truly about saving lives,” says Turk. “Palmetto Health stands ready to serve as an information resource for community organizations desiring to become involved.”

If you are interested in learning more about Heart Start and participating in the program, call Care Call at (803) 296-CARE.

Sudden cardiac death, also called sudden arrest, is death resulting from an abrupt loss of heart function. Often, cardiac death can occur without previous symptoms. The most common underlying reason for people to die suddenly from cardiac arrest is coronary artery disease, or the fatty build-up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. If a young person dies from cardiac arrest, it’s more than likely he or she had an undetected abnormality in the heart.