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Paramedics Celebrate 50-year Anniversary of CPR

San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District mark the semicentennial celebration of the life-saving procedure by urging more people to get CPR certified.

It was just a leisurely summer day on the golf course for Danville resident Joe Farrell when he saw a man black out and collapse from a heart attack.

Farrell, a 58-year-old physical therapist trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), performed the procedure before paramedics arrived five minutes later and used an defibrillator to shock the man's heart back into beat.

Thanks to Farrell's quick thinking and medical training, the man left the scene breathing and is still alive today.

"I said to my friends that day, you just pray that someone knows CPR or there is [a defibrillator] around you if you are down with sudden cardiac arrest because for every minute that a victim's heart doesn't get shocked back into rhythm, survival rate falls by 10 percent," Farrell said.

One year later, in August 2008, Farrell himself became a victim of sudden cardiac arrest while at a friend's house. Luckily his friend, also a doctor of physical therapy, performed CPR and Farrell survived.

"After these experiences in two years my wife and I decided our mission is to get as many citizens trained in CPR and [in using a defibrillator] as possible," Joe Farrell said. The couple are now CPR and automated external defibrillator (AED) instructors with the American Heart Association.

But not everyone should have to experience a sudden cardiac arrest situation first-hand to recognized the importance of being trained on CPR.

The San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the procedure, which nearly doubles a sudden cardiac arrest victim's chances of survival if administered before emergency medical services personnel arrive.

In 2007, Congress designated the first seven days of June as National CPR/AED Awareness Week. This year, the association set a goal to teach a million people about CPR and AED. Locally, the fire district did its part on June 5 by training more than 200 people at Monte Vista High School in Danville and Iron Horse Middle School in San Ramon.

"Some of those people have decided they want to go on and get more training," said Andy Swartzell, the district's emergency medical services coordinator. He said he's "really encouraged" because certification classes given the last Saturday of each month are filled for the next four months.

A review of heart attack statistics in the district's jurisdiction revealed that CPR was started in only 12 percent of calls before paramedics arrived — less than the national average of 15 percent.

To increase awareness around this issue, the HeartSafe Community Committee was formed to ensure all elements of the "chain of survival" are in place throughout the San Ramon Valley. The chain includes early access or 9-1-1 calls, early CPR, early use of a defibrillator and early advanced care by emergency medical services personnel.

"The most important part in having the public trained in CPR is they are the first link in the chain of survival," Swartzell said.

Having at least 10 percentage of the population trained in CPR, he added, would also help the district become recognized by the county and the association as a HeartSafe Community with all elements of the chain of survival in place and a focus on improving citizens' cardiovascular health.

In Danville, San Ramon, Alamo and Dublin between January 2009 to May 2010, 14 percent ofheart attack victims survived, compared with 5 to 7 percent nationally, according to Joseph Barger, Contra Costa County Emergency Medical Services medical director.

Though twice as many people survive in San Ramon Valley than the rest of the nation, Pam Dodson, the service's pre-hospital care coordinator, said communities within the district have a new target to reach.

"Increasing awareness of sudden cardiac arrest and becoming a HeartSafe Community will increase that survival rate to 25 [to] 35 percent — as high as we can get," she said.

Physical therapist Edie Farrell, 60, said the committee, which she joined following her husband Joe Farrell's experience, has received much support from San Ramon and Danville officials and is dedicated in its efforts to receiving HeartSafe Community approval.

"(The committee has) done a wonderful job of putting AED's in public places and in schools, they've come a long way and they're people who just really care," she said.

From saving and being saved with CPR, Joe Farrell said he has become "aware of how fragile life is" and that community members should learn the procedure because sudden cardiac arrest strikes people of all ages and degrees of fitness, often without warning.

"I just feel we can't take life for granted," he said. "We have to get out there and try to give people a chance to live."

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