Vail Valley Scenery column: Starting Hearts honors defibrillator inventor |

Vail Valley Scenery column: Starting Hearts honors defibrillator inventor

Jackie Devens, Mary Ferero and Starting Hearts board member Carolyn Connolly.
Carolyn Pope | Special to the Daily |

You’re out for a walk and a runner passes you, grabs her chest and falls to the ground.

Would you know what to do?

That’s the mission of Starting Hearts, a nonprofit in Vail which was founded in 2010. Lynn Blake’s heart stopped while working in Vail in 2007. Fortunately, a coworker knew CPR, called 911 and she was revived with the use of an AED. Lynn was 27.

At Donovan Pavilion last week, Starting Hearts hosted A Night to Remember to raise money to fund its aggressive plan to educate our valley as well as to add AEDs throughout the county.

“You need to be familiar with the symptoms of (sudden cardiac arrest) and know that the quicker the person receives defibrillation, the more likely their survivability,” said Dr. Jerry Greenberg, who along with his partner, Dr. Nelson Prager, is a cardiologist in Vail. “The chance of survivability decreases by 10 percent every minute after cardiac arrest. When a person collapses, they are in much better hands if the first responder is trained and aware of basic CPR.”

Sudden cardiac arrest is a leading killer in the United States, with more than 320,000 deaths annually. It is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia. With its pumping action disrupted, the heart cannot pump blood to the brain, lungs and other organs. Seconds later, a person loses consciousness and has no pulse. Death occurs within minutes if the victim does not receive treatment.

The event honored Dr. Morton Mower with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Mower was part of a team that invented the automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillator. Both Morton and his wife, Toby, who is also a doctor, are on the advisory board for Starting Hearts. The evening featured a delectable buffet and appetizers from chef Richard A. Bailey, of Taste5 Catering, and a dance party led by local students.

Starting Hearts began on a shoestring budget, with $5,000 in cash and a website. Since then, donations and awareness have grown, and the town of Vail gave the organization a decommissioned bus lovingly nicknamed the “HeartRod,” which makes rounds throughout the valley to train those who want to learn CPR and how to use an AED.

“I took it to the landfill to train workers there and they thought I was dropping it off as junk,” Blake said, laughing.

Starting Hearts Executive Director Alan Himelfarb has personal experience with sudden cardiac arrest. His father went into cardiac arrest at age 57, and though Himelfarb was trained in CPR, he was unable to revive him.

“More than 1,000 Americans die every day from (sudden cardiac arrest),” he said. “Right now, we have trained 2,500 in our community, 1,500 of whom were students. We have a goal to teach 10,000 people in CPR.”

What can you do? The Call.Push.Shock. program is a 45-minute, hands-on CPR and AED skills training for youth, adults, businesses, neighborhoods or any other person or group wanting to quickly and effectively learn how to respond.

Starting Hearts also encourages everyone with a smartphone to download the free PulsePoint app and to follow Vail Public Safety Communications Center and select the CPR notification box. You will be informed if someone near you has reported sudden cardiac arrest and the app will notify you of the nearest AED.

Visit the Starting Hearts website at to learn more and help the organization by making a donation.

Carolyn Pope has covered community service events and nonprofit activities since 2001 and co-authored “The Women of Vail.” She can be reached at 970-390-9913.

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