Learn CPR at local event on Saturday

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It isn't often you get to save your best friend's life. But that's exactly what Marlene Naranjo, 64, did this spring when her friend, Mary Beth ElGouhary, collapsed at a senior center in Albuquerque.

The victim of sudden cardiac arrest, ElGouhary lay on the center's dance floor, motionless and turning a blue-gray pallor.

While everyone else remained frozen, Naranjo took charge. She knew exactly what to do, thanks to a recent Program Heart Start class that taught her the compression-only CPR method.

Naranjo kept the blood pumping in her friend's body while EMTs rushed to the scene.

And because of the class, she knew the senior center probably had an automated external defibrillator, a portable device that checks for a heart beat and, if necessary, delivers an electric shock to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm.

By the time paramedics arrived, between the chest compressions and the defibrillator, ElGouhary was breathing again.

"I was doing the compressions and it felt like forever," Naranjo said. "She really died on the floor."

Naranjo estimated the EMTs arrived about seven minutes after ElGouhary's heart stopped.

This Saturday, Valencia County residents have the chance to learn the same life-saving skills.

The Valencia County Fire Department, city of Belen and Belen High School are teaming up to offer the first ever Project Heart Start classes in the county.

There will be four 45-minute sessions — at 10 and 11 a.m., and 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. — on Saturday, Oct. 26, at the Belen High School gymnasium

The course will teach participants the "hands-only" CPR method and it is not a certification class.

Valencia County Fire Chief Steven Gonzales said his office had received calls from the public asking if his department offered courses for things such as CPR, fire extinguisher use and blood-born pathogens.

"Safety issues that are typical for most homes," Gonzales said. "We reached out to the Albuquerque Fire Department because they do a large annual CPR training at Isotopes Park."

AFD connected Gonzales with Project Heart Start and Dr. Barry Ramo, director of the project and a cardiologist with the New Mexico Heart Institute. The project is funded by donations to the New Mexico Heart Institute Foundation.

Nicholas Moya, division chief for Valencia County EMS, said offering the classes is part of the department's community outreach.

"Our job is to keep the public safe and protect lives," Moya said. "With these classes, they can help keep themselves safe."

The department plans to offer the courses at Los Lunas and Valencia high schools, Moya said, once dates for those locations have been finalized.

The session will begin with a brief video that shows students the proper technique for hands-only CPR. The video will be shown in the high school's gymnasium.

Then the instructors — all county fire personnel — will take the students over to the gym and begin showing them how to put the techniques into real-world practice on practice dummies.

"When CPR is used, it can sometimes go on for quite some time, so they will be taught the proper placement of their hands and arms to avoid fatigue and to effectively help a patient," Moya said.

Instructors will also go over the signs and symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest, Moya said.

Students will also be introduced to an automated external defibrillator. AEDs are used to treat sudden cardiac arrest, a condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating.

"The course will show people how to use an AED so they are not hesitant to use one and understand the process," Moya said.

Determining someone is having sudden cardiac arrest, calling 911, beginning CPR and possibly using a defibrillator can absolutely save a life, he said.

"Statistically, 95 percent of sudden cardiac arrest victims die because people don't know what do to," Moya said. "Early recognition and chest compressions, combined with early defibrillation are key."

The chest compressions keep oxygenated blood in the body moving to vital organs, such as the brain, he said. The human brain can go without oxygen for about seven minutes before damage begins to occur.

"The downtime of the patient is going to affect the outcome," Moya said. "The more the oxygenated blood circulates, the better."

Gonzales said the hands-only CPR allows already oxygenated blood to be circulated, as opposed to the chest compression plus mouth-to-mouth method that attempts to re-oxygenate the blood and then circulate it.

"Some people aren't comfortable with the mouth-to-mouth part," he said. "This will allow people to do everything they can for a better outcome."

Moya added that it was his hope that the simpler chest compression CPR method will give people more confidence in the event of an emergency.

The courses are open to all ages, Gonzales said, and there is no fee or prior registration required.

"If they have enough weight behind them to compress a chest about two inches, they are welcome to come," he said.

"We encourage families to come," Moya said. "I'm really looking forward to the sessions. This can only benefit the community."

Dorothee Hutchinson, the New Mexico Heart Institute Foundation's project coordinator, said the Heart Start Project was Dr. Ramo's plan.

"He started this a long time ago when CPR was more complicated, when they were still teaching the breaths," Hutchinson said.

The classes were a full four hours and it was hard to get people to come, she said.

"I think there was also the fear that, in an emergency, people would forget how many compressions for how many breaths," she said. "They were afraid they would make a mistake."

In recent years, guidelines have changed as it was recognized that compression-only CPR was as effective, if not more so, than the traditional version.

"After that change, Dr. Ramo thought this was the time to train the masses. It's less complicated, takes less time, there's less intimidation," Hutchinson said.

The Albuquerque Fire Department held its big annual Heart Start training at Isotopes Park two years, she said and since then it has expanded to 12 cities across the state.

So far, the program has trained 11,000 people in hands-only CPR in New Mexico, Hutchinson said, 6,000 of which are just from this year.

As the program continues to expand, Hutchinson said the hope is to expand the training into public schools as part of the health education required for high school graduation and into senior citizen centers.

The story of ElGouhary and Naranjo, both of Albuquerque, is a perfect example of how the training saves lives, she said.

"When the class was offered at the senior center, one went, one didn't," Hutchinson said.

ElGouhary is one of the 7 to 8 percent of people who survive an incident of sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital.

"I'm very lucky she took the course. What she did needed to happen immediately," ElGouhary said. "If nothing had been done until the EMTs had arrived, I probably would have had damage to my heart and brain. Project Heart Start is the only reason I'm talking to you today."

Now that she has recovered from the heart surgery that followed her cardiac arrest, ElGouhary said she is looking forward to taking the course herself.

The day Naranjo took the class, the two friends went to lunch after.

"Mary Beth joked, 'Now who's life are you going to save?'" Naranjo said with a laugh. "It is such a simple class. I encourage everyone to take it. It's easy to learn and you can save a life."

For information about Project Heart Start, visit www.projectheartstartnm.com.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.