If Vassar residents seek motivation to become Tuscola County’s first “Heartsafe Community,” they can look 21 miles east to Kingston, where an automated external defibrillator — operated by someone who knew how to use it — saved the life of Kingston High School student Logan Stewart last year.
“Some of these cardiac arrests that occur often happen in young people,” said Laura Walker of Vassar Township, a registered nurse helping organize Vassar’s efforts to win the “Heartsafe” distinction from the Saginaw Valley Medical Control Authority.
“They could have some internal arrhythmia that they don’t know about,” said Walker, who works for LifeNet of Michigan, a 24-hour air medical transport service.
“It happens with young kids in sports; you hear these stories about kids (collapsing) on the basketball court and situations like that.”
Walker and four other area medical professionals — all of whom have done emergency medical service work around Tuscola County — met with The Advertiser last week to explain how Vassar residents can help the city achieve the “Heartsafe” designation.
The program is designed to promote survival from sudden out-of-hospital cardiac arrest — when the heart stops beating. Saginaw Township is the only municipality in Saginaw or Tuscola counties to be named a “Heartsafe Community,” though the Cass City Public Schools has achieved the status of a “Heartsafe” school district.
One year ago, an automated external defibrillator, or AED — used by Kingston Community Schools employees — helped save the life of Stewart, a Kingston High School student whose heart had stopped after he had lifted weights in a school physical education class.
Earlier this year, Mobile Medical Response Inc. employees “went out to the Kingston schools and trained their entire faculty, and their athletic trainers and coaches, about what to do in the case of a cardiac arrest” such as the one that happened to Logan Stewart, said Phil Petzold, an operations manager for Mobile Medical Response overseeing four ambulance bases in Tuscola County.
Leaders of the Kingston effort are “committed to making sure that everybody in the school system knows what to do in that situation,” said Petzold, of Arbela Township.
Officials with the Saginaw Valley Medical Control Authority — overseeing Saginaw and Tuscola counties — would determine if Vassar meets the criteria to become the first “Heartsafe Community” among Tuscola County’s 34 local municipalities such as cities, villages and townships.
“In order to do that, we need to train a majority of the population of Vassar on how to do CPR, and it will be a hands-only approach with the CPR, because studies have found that even people who knew CPR were reluctant to start CPR if they had to do mouth-to-mouth (resuscitation) because of diseases and that kind of stuff,” Walker said.
A study showed that if CPR is initiated following cardiac arrest the chance of survival increased significantly, Walker said.
“For every minute that a person doesn’t receive CPR, their chance of survival decreases by 10 percent,” said Eric Snidersich of Saginaw County’s Frankenmuth Township, paramedic and EMS manager for the Saginaw Valley Medical Control Authority.
“So after about eight minutes, their chance of survival is about zero if they receive no CPR,” Snidersich said. “That’s where it becomes important that the citizens, and the people who witness these cardiac arrests, get involved.”
Taking (AED) inventory
Another major goal of Vassar’s “Heartsafe Community” initiative, said Scot Smeader of Tuscola Township, is to educate residents about how to use an AED, which shocks the heart to restore its rhythm or get it working again.
“For the size of Vassar, we’ve got a lot of AEDs out there,” said Smeader, a paramedic supervisor for MMR. “What we don’t always know is when the businesses purchase them on their own, and they have them — and maybe (employees) have some training on them, and know how to use them — but we don’t know that.”
Smeader said volunteers hope to create a map of the Vassar area with the locations of AEDs on it.
Vassar receives points for various projects that could make the community more “Heartsafe.” For example, points can be received for fitness or wellness programs in the city.
“But the biggest ones that the community can help us with is learning the CPR and the AED use,” Smeader said. “It doesn’t take long; we can teach this in 10 minutes, though we’ll find that (students in) those organizations will ask questions and I’ll be there for an hour.”
A cardiac arrest differs from a heart attack, which happens when the heart doesn’t receive enough oxygen — a situation that could lead to cardiac arrest.
Smeader said about 80 percent of cardiac arrests happen at home. “Whenever we teach this, we tell people that most likely if they’re going to do CPR, it’s going to be on somebody they know,” he said.
The compressions administered to a person’s body during CPR circulate the blood throughout the system and the blood has oxygen in it, helping sustain someone until medical personnel arrive, Smeader said.
Use of CPR on a victim “buys us the time for the ambulance to get there or for maybe a police officer to get there, too, with maybe an AED,” Smeader said.
Businesses, churches, organizations or individuals wanting to set up a CPR-training session for a group, or to train residents in AED use, may visit the “Vassar Heart Safe Community” Facebook page and send a message to its supporters. Volunteers also seek information on locations of AEDs.
“We already know that the schools have some,” Walker said. “Early CPR is important, but so is early defibrillation, and they’ve made these (AED) machines so they’re so user-friendly. They will walk you step-by-step through them.
“Our goal is to learn what churches or businesses or organizations in Vassar have those AEDs. If the community is aware of where they’re at and a resident sees someone go down (due to cardiac arrest), you know that (a particular business or location) has an AED, so you tell someone to get the AED and someone starts CPR.”
Organizers of the push to make Vassar a “Heartsafe Community” figure other communities in Tuscola County will want to seek the same designation.
“I think once we get involved here in Vassar, I think there are more communities in the county that will want this,” Smeader said. “We’ve all been on multiple calls where we thought that ‘CPR on this person, just one or two minutes earlier, could have saved him.’
“We’ve all felt that numerous times, and that’s another reason we’re doing this.”
The Saginaw Valley Medical Control Authority sponsors an annual recognition banquet so survivors of cardiac arrest can meet the emergency medical technicians, paramedics and first responders who aided in their survival.
“Eight years ago we didn’t have a lot of survivors to recognize in the two counties,” Snidersich said. “Now we’re at the point where the number of survivors could have their own separate party.
“Our best year, two years ago, we had 30 available survivors.”
The process of trying to resuscitate individuals at emergency scenes has changed since then, too, said Audrey Shaver of Saginaw County’s Tittabawassee Township, EMS director for the Saginaw Valley Medical Control Authority.
“We used to do our first-line medications, and certain treatments, and we loaded them and we drove really fast to the hospital, while you were trying to do really good CPR, which you cannot do in the back of an ambulance,” Shaver said.
“Now you remain on scene and work these individuals through all the care, and you do not transport them unless you get a return of circulation, unless you restart that heart.”
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org