Imagine you’re at one of your child’s sporting events, and suddenly, amid all the action and commotion, your child collapses to the ground. He is not breathing and lies motionless. His heart has stopped due to sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Indeed, one of the most perplexing aspects of SCA is that it often occurs among children and young athletes who appear healthy and have no symptoms. Sudden cardiac arrest may be the first sign of an undetected heart problem. 

More than 350,000 Americans die each year from SCA. Thousands are children. Sudden cardiac death claims a young athlete every three days in the United States. In the past five years, at least 50 children and young athletes have died from probable sudden cardiac arrest in Texas. It can strike anyone, anywhere, and when it does, a victim’s chance of survival depends on the people around them. 

When Sudden Cardiac Arrest Strikes …

Bystanders must be able to recognize cardiac arrest, phone 911, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to get oxygen-rich blood circulating through the victim’s body, and use an automated external defibrillator (AED). Applying the AED will only help the victim. You cannot hurt someone with an AED because it will only apply shock if needed. The AED works with voice prompts and is very easy to use. A sudden cardiac arrest may look like a seizure in the beginning. But remember that anyone who is unresponsive and not breathing normally needs CPR and the AED. 

What Can You Do?

· Register for a CPR/AED class, held here at North Hills Hospital on Saturday mornings. The course is designed to build confidence, as well as skills. It uses a lot of hands-on practice in simulated emergency situations. Anyone over the age of 14 who expresses an interest should take the course.

· Know the warning signs that might indicate a need for a pediatric cardiac evaluation: fainting or near-fainting during or after exercise; excessive, unexplained fatigue associated with exercise; unusual chest pain or discomfort with exercise; dizziness and lightheadedness; skipping or racing heartbeats; unexplained heart murmur; or high blood pressure.

· Know your family history. At least 50 percent of the diagnoses that cause sudden cardiac death are genetic.

· Find out if your child’s recreation league has AEDs and trained staff at their practices and games.

Texas State Law requires all public schools and certain athletic events to have an AED and trained staff; unfortunately state law does not require our children’s recreational leagues to have AEDs and trained staff at practice and games. 

Our Tragedy

Sarah Friend lived life with purpose. She was a beautiful girl who was loved by her friends, teachers, and her family. On July 14, 2004, Sarah set off to NRH20 Water Park and never returned home. She was three weeks short of her 13th birthday when she collapsed climbing the stairs of a water coaster and was not resuscitated. In the dark hours that followed, the cause of her untimely death was announced as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM)—a thickening of the heart muscle. But as more details surfaced, the actual cause of death was diagnosed as sudden cardiac arrest.

Sarah’s passing made apparent the serious need for proper training of staff members in public places and schools so they can recognize and respond to the treatment of all emergencies, including cardiac ones. When someone suffers a cardiac arrest and his or her heart goes into ventricular fibrillation, the only lifesaving remedy is an AED.

The aftermath of this tragic event left many unanswered questions, the largest of which we know would have come from Sarah. As a result, we launched the Sarah Friend Heart Foundation.

Sarah’s Legacy

The annual Run for Sarah 5K and 1Mile Run/Walk is the Sarah Friend Heart Foundation’s way of raising awareness about sudden cardiac arrest in kids. We are very honored and humbled to have North Hills Hospital support our mission these past six years. Our annual fundraiser has donated 25 AEDs to Northeast Tarrant Schools alone and has assisted with their CPR programs.

On Saturday, May 14, 2011, join us and thousands of walkers, joggers and runners as we Run for Sarah!

Sarah’s life and death are a daily part of my life. She was a student, a sister, and a daughter, and now she is an inspiration to save lives and to prevent other families from having to endure such a loss. We strongly believe that if an emergency action plan is in place, lives will be saved. We have fire evacuation plans and fire drills to save lives, but ask any firefighters, and they’ll tell you that AEDs are used more than fire extinguishers. We need to implement emergency action plans and AED mock drills. 

The Future … Heart-Safe Schools and Communities

We are excited to help launch Project ADAM Texas, led by Cook Children’s, in Northeast Tarrant County. Project ADAM will assist our schools with their existing public access defibrillation program and increase awareness and understanding of sudden cardiac arrest and how to properly respond to it. Working together, we will be able to save more lives by promoting the awareness of and response to sudden cardiac emergencies. This development will clearly benefit all our communities, since both children and adults are affected by sudden cardiac arrest. 

—Laura Friend

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