When sudden cardiac arrest occurs outside of a hospital, a person only has about a 10 percent chance of survival. However, if the cardiac arrest occurs in a Georgia school that has been prepared for such an event through Project S.A.V.E., the survival rate jumps to 80 percent. Since December 2007, 116 lives have been saved in Georgia schools, including 61 students, and there are many more “downstream” saves that occur after people receive Project S.A.V.E. training.
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta started Project S.A.V.E., which stands for Sudden cardiac arrest Awareness Vision for prevention Education, in 2004 with the mission of promoting and improving prevention of SCA in children, adolescents and others in Georgia communities. Project S.A.V.E. brings automated external defibrillator (AED) and CPR training directly to Georgia schools, athletic leagues and community centers, like Big Brothers Big Sisters. June 1-7 is National CPR and AED Awareness Week, a week set aside by Congress in 2007 to highlight how lives can be saved if more people know CPR and how to use an AED.
Richard Lamphier is Clinical Program Manager for Project S.A.V.E. He travels around Georgia conducting CPR and AED training and recognizing schools as “Heart Safe.” According to him, the most important thing for people to know about saving a life is you can do it.
During Project S.A.V.E. training, Lamphier discusses the warning signs of an SCA or heart attack. In general, a heart attack is a “plumbing” problem, meaning there is a blockage preventing proper blood flow to the heart. An SCA is an “electrical” problem, meaning that the heart has suddenly stopped beating in rhythm. The latter is more likely in children.
The warning signs of possible heart risk in students includes fainting, nearly fainting or seizure-like activity during or immediately after exercise, high emotions or being startled; unusual chest, shoulder, back or jaw pain; excessive, unexpected and unexplained fatigue or shortness of breath with exercise; unexplained heart murmur or high blood pressure; premature, unexplained death in a close relative younger than 50; or close relatives with conditions such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, dilated cardiomyopathy, long QT syndrome, Marfan syndrome or clinically important arrhythmias.
If a student or adult experiences SCA, Project S.A.V.E. first responders are taught that it’s best to start CPR right away, but some may be reluctant.
There are two things that throw people off when deciding whether to start CPR,” Lamphier said. “Gasping respirations, like snorts or snores is one. The body can breathe for up to three minutes after cardiac arrest, so we advise to check for ‘normal’ breathing. The other is seizure-like activity in the arms and legs in a person below age 30. Seizures can be caused by a lack of oxygen traveling through the muscles, causing them to contract. A person can still be experiencing cardiac arrest while moving and breathing abnormally.”
Even if you are unsure about whether a person is experiencing SCA, Lamphier said it’s better to do CPR on someone who doesn’t need it than to not do CPR on someone who does.
“It’s always better to do something rather than nothing,” he said.
He also notes that while it’s good to have an AED on campus, it’s even better to have an AED program in place, which includes training for staff and the designation of volunteers who will maintain the AED and ensure it’s available when it’s needed, not behind a locked door. The Project S.A.V.E. program also features a cardiac emergency drill to give the first response team a chance to practice what they’ve learned.
“Practice drills allow the team to see what it could be like, and it’s rewarding to see them take ownership and seek ways to improve their response,” Lamphier said.
Since he began working with Project S.A.V.E. six years ago, Lamphier says the biggest change he’s seen is an increase in awareness as more people know about the program and desire training. He said one of the highlights of his job is when he gets the opportunity to return to a school after a save and present certificates to the heroes who were part of the rescue.
Getting to see the person who was saved back at school or work is wonderful and recognizing those heroes who had a big part in saving a life is very rewarding,” Lamphier said.
If your child’s school is not already recognized as “Heart Safe” by Project S.A.V.E., you can initiate the process by contacting Lamphier at 404-785-7201 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or to arrange a free consultation for your school or organization. He also teaches free CPR classes monthly on the third Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. and third Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. of every month at 1644 Tullie Circle in Atlanta.
Project S.A.V.E. is a donor-supported program. To make a donation, visit the Project S.A.V.E. Donation page. To find more resources about Project S.A.V.E. and preventing sudden cardiac arrest, visit the choa.org website.
For more information about Sibley Heart Center Cardiology and our pediatric cardiology specialists, click here.