Coon Rapids police officer Bryan Platz rattles off a list of reasons that bystanders give for watching a person die of sudden cardiac arrest.
They figured help was on the way. They didn’t know what to do. They’d forgotten their training. They were too scared to act.
Platz’s mission crystallized when he arrived to find nearly a dozen people gathered around a dying man. Despite recent leaps in lifesaving innovation, including hands-only CPR and the automated external defibrillator (AED), no one helped.
He decided to teach his city how to save lives.
“We see cardiac arrest in its rawest form. The culture has to change,” Platz said. “Don’t wait for the help. Be the help.”
In three years, Platz and the volunteers he’s recruited have trained more than 13,000 people in how to perform hands-only CPR and how to use an AED, a portable medical device almost anyone can use to shock a cardiac arrest victim back to life.
They count as least five lives saved as a direct result of their efforts.
“I love how this program cuts through the ignorance. There is no excuse to just stand there,” Coon Rapids Mayor Jerry Koch said. “I applaud it. We’ve met the people whose lives have been saved. That is very powerful testimony.”
Platz — often on his own time — has trained business leaders, store clerks, high school students, Boy Scouts and seniors. He was a surprise presenter at an Internet security convention, filling the room with his “Human Body Hacking” seminar.
Platz and volunteers also have identified and mapped more than 160 AEDs in the city, making sure batteries are charged and that people know how to use them. They’ve raised money to help place eight more of them in the city.
“It’s amazing what Bryan is doing. He is very passionate about his message and saving lives,” said Julia Corneil-Smith, a Coon Rapids High School counselor who went through Platz’s training last week. “He talks about the seconds we had to save lives. Calling for help is not good enough. We need to step up and do our part.”
The city of Coon Rapids has received a Heart Safe Community designation from a national public health initiative intended to help more people survive after sudden cardiac arrest.
‘An electrical issue’
Sudden cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack, experts say.
“A heart attack is a plumbing issue. It’s a blockage. Sudden cardiac arrest is an electrical issue, the pulsing of your heart,” said Justin Bell, government relations director with the American Heart Association’s Midwest affiliate. “They are two totally different things. Sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone.”
With Platz’s urging, eleven other Anoka County cities have either received or have started working on their Heart Safe designations. The Minnesota Department of Health and the American Heart Association oversee Minnesota’s Heart Safe program.
Platz volunteers for the national Heart Safe group, and he has worked with the Play for Patrick Foundation, the nonprofit that screens children and teens for heart defects in memory of Eastview hockey player Patrick Schoonover, who died in 2014 at age 14.
Families can sign up for free heart screening and hands-only CPR and AED training on March 5 at Coon Rapids High School.
The advent of hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation is a critical part of the Heart Safe movement.
Conventional CPR requires a combination of chest compressions and rescue breaths to save the life of a person whose heart has stopped. People can and do still receive that training and certification, but research shows that chest compressions alone can save lives, too.
“The science shifted right around 2010,” said Bell, with the American Heart Association. “There is a small but vital amount of oxygen in your blood. Circulating that oxygen already in the bloodstream can keep a patient alive until EMS [emergency medical services] arrives.”
Fear of doing harm is a common reason people stay on the sidelines.
“If you are not breathing and your heart is not beating, you are already dead. You can’t get any deader than dead,” Bell said.
A personal stake
For Platz, 41, who grew up in Coon Rapids and lives there with his wife and two sons, this lifesaving campaign is personal.
His 7-year-old son has muscular dystrophy, and sudden cardiac arrest is a risk they live with every day.
“We live here, and I want people to know how to fix my family if it happens,” Platz said. “If my son goes down in school or Target, hopefully someone I’ve had contact with is there to help.”