Working in health education is a rewarding, yet challenging vocation. It is rewarding to watch those you educate learn a new skill or incorporate healthy habits to improve their quality of life. The challenge? Trying to reach individuals that think “it can’t happen to me.”

I’ve been there with my own family. Three years ago, my mom had a heart attack, which started with the classic symptoms: pain in the chest, pain down the arm, and pain in the jaw. She endured these symptoms for three days. Yes, THREE days, until the pain became unbearable, and she asked my father to drive her to the hospital. (Click here an article on why driving to the hospital is a bad idea).

Once at the hospital, we learned her chest pain was due to a heart attack, and her physician discovered her main coronary artery was 98% blocked. In other words, she was hours away from having a massive heart attack had she not sought medical treatment to fix the blockage.

More recently, a U High sophomore Kai Bates-Diop dropped to the gym floor after experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.

While helping with practice, Illinois State University athletic trainers Maddie Biehl and Emily Martz sprang to action, administering CPR and using a nearby automated external defibrillator (AED) to revive Bates-Diop. AEDs can restore heart rhythm to someone suffering cardiac arrest. 

After recovering at a Peoria hospital, Bates-Diop is now home, recovering and doing well, said his mom, Wilma Bates.

In both of these instances, I am sure neither of these cardiac survivors gave much thought to AEDs and CPR. Heart attacks and Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) may like a health issue that happens to someone else, so when the topic of the importance of AEDs and CPR arises, many people’s eyes glaze over as they nod mindlessly. They don’t have a family history, or they are in good shape, or they are young, they think- ‘this can’t happen to me.”

The reality is heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. In its various forms, cardiac arrest CAN happen to you regardless of age, race, gender, or fitness level. Survival rates for those suffering a cardiac emergency are notoriously low unless CPR and defibrillation are started within three minutes of the cardiac event.

My mom and Kai know first-hand the importance of intervention in the event of a cardiac emergency. They know that deflecting the issue does not decrease the likelihood that cardiac arrest could happen to them or someone they love. Cardiac arrest is our problem. We can all help by becoming certified in CPR, by learning how to use an AED, and by educating our friends and families on the importance of AEDs and CPR in our community.