This week’s post has been written by Andrea Baer, Executive Director of Parent Heart Watch

February is Heart Month, a time for candy, flowers, and Valentines. But February takes on a whole new meaning when your world has been rocked by sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Like a thief in the night, it steals lives too early and leaves families devastated. For these devastated families, Heart Month is about awareness, prevention, and action so others can avoid experiencing this kind of life-changing loss. It’s why Parent Heart Watch exists and is dedicated to eliminating preventable death and disabilities from SCA in youth by 2030.

Parent Heart Watch believes the best Valentine we can give is the gift of survival. Here’s how we can all make this a reality.

Awareness of sudden cardiac arrest and its true incidence in youth is vital. Out of hospital SCA affects 356,000 people annually, which is almost 1,000 people each day. The number of youth affected is estimated to be as many as 23,000 though a national registry has yet to be established, even though SCA is the #1 killer of student athletes and the leading cause of death on school campuses. We know that 1 in 300 of our youth has an underlying heart condition that puts them at risk.

Early detection of heart conditions through recognition of warning signs and risk factors and preventative screenings saves lives. Many times, this risk is undetected, or unknown until the unthinkable happens. Prevention starts with being able to identify signs and symptoms that are typically missed or misdiagnosed. At least 50% of youth had at least one warning sign or risk factor—it just wasn’t recognized as life-threatening. That means as many as 50% of youth stricken had no indicator that would trigger follow-up testing. That’s why early detection with an ECG at well-child checks and pre-participation examinations for sports (PPEs). ECGs can detect up to 70% of abnormalities that can cause SCA and have been proven to find more youth at risk.

Bystanders must be empowered to provide immediate intervention for an SCA victim, because for every minute’s delay survival drops by 10% and average arrival times for emergency responders is six to 12 minutes. You don’t need to be a trained professional—you just need to Call Push Shock™ Call: Call 911; Push: Start hands-only CPR; Shock: Use an AED

Widespread & proper placement of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are key to survival and should be universally placed (much like fire extinguishers) and properly, publicly accessible.

Cardiac emergency response planning anywhere youth congregate is vital. Having an AED and trained bystanders is not enough. Having a written and well-practiced plan that is widely shared within the facility ensures everyone is empowered to act. We practice fire drills; we should practice what happens in a cardiac emergency given exponentially more lives are lost to it.

Saving the lives of our youth will take us all working together, but we believe that Together We Will!

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