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Staying Alive With Project Heart Start

Marisa Demarco / KUNM
A Project Heart Start training

Sudden cardiac arrest hits hundreds of thousands of people of all around the country, and it affects folks of all-ages, even those with no other illnesses or obvious symptoms. A new program in the state is training people to know what to do when it happens.  

About 15 people practiced compressions on mannequins at a recent Project Heart Start training. The program emphasizes compression-only CPR, without mouth-to-mouth. Studies have found it to be about as effective, and the “ick” factor associated with mouth-to-mouth isn’t an issue, which means people are more likely to jump in and help. 

At around 100 beats per minute, "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees replicates the pulse of the human heart. And when you’re doing chest compressions during CPR, trainers say you should have this rhythm in your head while pushing hard on the center of the chest. 

Ed Jaworksi is careful about his health. He exercises five times a week and eats a healthy diet with hardly any red meat or alcohol. "On August 14, about 10:30, I died," he said.

He was instructing a spin class that morning at a local gym. "I had never perspired or sweated so profusely as that, and Terry said I was kinda pale and my hands were shaky," he said. 

Terry Kocon, his wife of 30 years, said, "I kept watching him, thinking, 'Something’s wrong. Something’s really wrong here.'"

She urged him to end class early, and decided to drive him to urgent care. As she began to pull out of the parking lot, "Ed went out. I mean he just gasped and collapsed in the seat next to me," she said. "I looked at him and there was no pulse. He wasn’t breathing. There was nothing."

Credit Adrian Grycuk via Wikimedia CC
AED in Warsaw, Poland

Kocon ran into the gym, shouted for them to call 911 and to bring the automatic external defibrillator, or AED. She knew to ask for one because she’d taken a CPR class on a whim a few months earlier. 

"I immediately started chest compressions, just like they taught in the class," she said. "And, I don’t know, here’s my husband laying here, and I was able to react, and I was able to do what I needed to do."

You know when a doctor on TV shouts “clear!” and then uses paddles to deliver shocks to a patient? That’s a defibrillator. And there are lunchbox-sized, portable ones stashed around the city, maybe in airports, hotels, grocery stores, gyms and schools. The machine walks users through the process. A voice comes through its speaker saying things like: "Stay clear of patient. Analyzing heart rhythm." Or "Shock delivered. It is safe to touch the patient."

The people who worked at the gym that day brought out the AED. They shocked Jaworski and brought him back. Then his heart stopped again. They shocked him a second time. 
It worked, and the ambulance arrived to take him to the hospital. Jaworski lived to tell the tale.

CPR alone doesn’t typically restart a heart after cardiac arrest. In fact, when you call 911 and you begin chest compressions, you’re keeping the blood flowing through the person’s body to prevent organ failure and brain damage as you wait for the ambulance to show up with a defibrillator. 


Credit Marisa Demarco / KUNM
Dr. Barry Ramo

Dr. Barry Ramo is a cardiologist and New Mexico’s longtime health adviser on KOAT TV. "The majority of people have not taken a CPR course recently, and many of them have never taken it at all," he said. "My goal is to train everyone in the state who is capable of doing it, because it’s really easy."

He started Project Heart Start six years ago with the goal of teaching life-saving techniques and getting AED's placed around the state. He said they should be as common as fire extinguishers. And you can’t really hurt someone with an AED. "They’re truly idiot-proof," Ramo said.
If a person doesn’t get a shock from a defibrillator within 10 minutes after a cardiac arrest, Ramo said, they’re probably going to die or wind up with a severe neurological problem.
Ramo helped usher in a law during the 2015 legislative session that protects people who use an AED to help someone from possible lawsuit, adding to existing good Samaritan laws already on the books. 

"The impediments to doing CPR is one, is that you’re afraid you’ll get sued. And I think that’s really not realistic anymore," he said. "Secondly, you’re afraid you’ll do something wrong. And the truth is if you don’t do anything, that’s doing something wrong."

You may break a few ribs, but Ed Jaworski will tell you, it’s a small price to pay. 


Project Heart Start is putting on free trainings all around the state on Saturday, June 20. Sessions start at 8 a.m., 9 a.m., 10 a.m. & 11 a.m. unless otherwise specified.

Albuquerque: UNM Johnson Center and Field (1 University Boulevard NE)

Rio Rancho: Meadowlark Senior Center (4330 Meadowlark Lane SE)

Las Cruces: Dona Ana Community College / East Campus Commons Area (2800 North Sonoma Ranch Boulevard)

Los Lunas: Los Lunas Transportation Center—Rail Runner Station (101 Courthouse Road) * Sessions start at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Los Alamos: Fuller Lodge (2132 Central Avenue) * Sessions start at 9 a.m., 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Questa: Questa Fire Department (2463 NM-522) * Sessions start 9 a.m., 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Grants: Cibola Family Heath Center (1423 Roosevelt Avenue) * Sessions start at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.

And here's the Bee Gees video so you can remember the rhythm. 



KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.  

Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.
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