Van Beek: Saving a life |

Van Beek: Saving a life

Summer is a time of adventure. We put away the skis and bring out the big toys: four-wheelers, mountain bikes, camping gear and kayaks, along with our favorite hiking boots, which might look like a dog’s chew toy, but they are molded to our feet, and no new boot will ever be as good.

Then there is our favorite pastime, that sport where we haul a bunch of metal sticks around in a giant circle, hitting a small white ball toward a tiny hole, located across the field, and once we reach it, we don’t pick it up like the treasure we have spent a fortune on pursuing, instead, we hit it away again … space aliens observing human behavior certainly must question our sanity, as does every golfer’s widow. 

All of that melted snow makes for truly exciting water activities. Rafting is one of life’s best adventures, but the real pilgrimage is from the tackle shop to the river … it’s fishing season!  We open our boxes of colorful trinkets, pick up an assortment of slimy critters, and begin our quest for a trout the size of a ’56 Buick. After catching a few, the size of minnows, we begin to understand that it’s all about the process; fishing has very little to do with actually catching them. 

Hiking, biking, swimming, marathons, outdoor sports: They all get our adrenaline going and keep us in shape for winter hibernation, alternating with skiing downhill like maniacs. Pushing the limits is what we do.  What happens when we push too hard?

Of course, we all know to prepare our bodies by gradually increasing our activity level, but sometimes, even when fit, our bodies might surprise us.  Our heart takes the brunt of our exciting lifestyle.

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Every 42 seconds, someone in the United States suffers a heart attack and more than 92% will not survive. The odds increase during high activity and at high altitudes. Yet, many people ignore the initial symptoms, which are similar to the effects of engaging in active sports: lightheadedness, sweating, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, pressure on the chest.  We’ve all heard of pro-athletes who at a young age, drop dead of heart failure. We must be sensitive to the subtilties of our own bodies in determining what is normal for us but what about others?

What to do if we see someone who appears to be having a cardiac incident?  The difference between life and death can depend on you. In our mountains, cellular reception is spotty, and even if we reach someone, they are varying minutes away, at a time when every second matters. 

Part of enjoying our environment, is preparing for adversity.  Wildlife encounters, weather changes, unexpected terrain, a sudden fall… any number of things can interrupt an otherwise wonderful experience.  Heart issues are truly sudden, and we must be prepared.  Adequate training saves lives.

Here in Eagle County, we are blessed with amazing opportunities and a community that understands the importance of emergency preparedness.

Certifications in CPR are easy and quick to obtain. With the availability of automated external defibrillators through the work of Starting Hearts (, most public areas are equipped with machines, and using them requires just a little additional training. Free one-hour classes monthly in Avon, and, for a small fee, certifications are available, which can include emergency first aid. Starting Hearts has regularly scheduled classes and can be reached at (970) 763-5306. The group offers children’s classes in the schools, preparing 5- to 8-year-olds as miniature first-responders. I encourage parents to enroll their children in our Camp 911 program, which includes child-focused training for several emergencies.

The Sheriff’s Office has 43 AEDs, with 38 of them on the road in our vehicles. We have had 19 deployments of AEDs in just the past three years, saving at least six lives. If you think there is a cardiac event happening, make that 911 call and begin a series that Starting Hearts terms call-push-shock. If you see us driving by, flag us down — we have a machine!

I encourage everyone to download the phone application called Pulse Point. It will give you the location of the nearest AED. When entering any public facility, take a moment to locate one. Many businesses have them onsite, including office buildings and educational facilities.

Enjoy our lifestyle and be prepared.  We would like to thank all first responders for the work they do, and to Alan Himelfarb for his work, providing Eagle County with over 400 AEDs, making it the highest number of machines per capita in the nation.  Have fun and be safe!

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at

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