Lindley: Starting Hearts strives to make Eagle County a model for the nation (column) | VailDaily.com

Lindley: Starting Hearts strives to make Eagle County a model for the nation (column)

Chris Lindley
Valley Voices

Chris Lindley

In 2007, Lynn Blake, an otherwise healthy 27-year-old, suffered a sudden cardiac arrest in Vail Village on Valentine's Day. Her heart stopped without warning. Miraculously, a co-worker immediately began CPR and the Vail Fire Department arrived on scene within minutes. Not one, not two, but three shocks from a defibrillator brought Lynn back to life, and she became one of the lucky 8 percent to survive a cardiac arrest.

Fully recovered, Lynn founded Starting Hearts in 2010 to help others as she had been helped. She developed an engaging and interactive class, Call.Push.Shock., to teach as many residents as possible how to do CPR and use a defibrillator, anytime, anywhere, for free. She engaged stakeholders throughout Eagle County, including police, fire, paramedics, our hospital, schools and business to support these efforts.

Lynn raised funds and placed public defibrillators throughout the county, making these lifesaving devices more readily available to all. This grassroots effort gained tremendous momentum, and today, Eagle County is one of the safest places in the world to suffer a cardiac arrest and not only survive, but thrive.

The data is impressive. On the educational front, more than 15,000 residents, about 28 percent of our county's population, have been trained by Starting Hearts in the past seven years. That includes virtually the entire population of Eagle County schools, including 6,800 students and 800 adults.

For defibrillators, Starting Hearts has increased the number of these lifesaving devices in the county to more than 400, or one for every 130 residents, likely the highest per capita rate anywhere in the world. And these numbers are going higher with the support of the Vail Health Foundation, which is underwriting the cost for 82 public access defibrillators.

So how do you find a defibrillator when you need one? Starting Hearts has activated a powerful, free, downloadable mobile phone app for all Eagle County residents. Called PulsePoint (available at your app store), this app shows the nearest defibrillator to you anywhere in Eagle County.

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Further, if you choose to receive signals, you will be alerted when a cardiac arrest takes place near you via the same message sent to emergency medical providers. Since cardiac arrest is a disease with a 10-minute lifespan, rapid response and early care are crucial. Citizen responders can make all the difference between a life saved and one lost.

Together with Vail Health and Eagle County Paramedics, Starting Hearts supports data collection through CARES, the Cardiac Arrest Registry to Improve Survival, which monitors data on cardiac arrest events and outcomes. The goal is to review and learn from events, apply best practices and improve survival rates.

These collective efforts are making our home a model for the nation. Starting Hearts plans to replicate this model in all communities in our county and, perhaps one day, to expand its programs throughout the state.

"It's amazing how one precious life saved can positively affect so many thousands," said Jill Ryan, Eagle County Commissioner. "For her efforts and community service, Lynn Blake has received the American Red Cross Hero Award and the Vail Leadership Institute's Torch Award. When you see Lynn around town with her 3-year-old son, Thomas Froeschle Blake, named after that co-worker who saved her life, give her a high five."

Chris Lindley is the Eagle County Public Health and Environment director. He is also a decorated combat veteran, receiving a Bronze Star while leading combat troops in Iraq.