It’s Coon Rapids police officer Byran Platz’s goal to drastically increase the odds of recovery for victims of cardiac arrest. Even though studies show that survival rates could be as high as 85 percent if CPR were administered in the first couple of minutes, national survival rates for cardiac arrest victims outside hospitals still stand at a dismal 5-7 percent, he said.
He attributes that mostly to fear among the public. “They are afraid they are going to hurt that person,” he said. “They are afraid they are going to do it wrong.”
Since Platz launched a campaign two years ago that made Coon Rapids a “Heart Safe” city, the organization has been trying to counter that fear through outreach and education. In April and May, Heart Safe Coon Rapids trained its biggest group yet — 1,200 freshmen and sophomores at Coon Rapids High School — in an effort to make the school the state’s second, and largest, Heart Safe campus.
To those who worry, Platz talks about the more than 100 times he’s done CPR in his years as a cop. He said he’s received “officially zero complaints” while actually administrating CPR.
And his response the three times in his career he’s had three people revive and say their chest hurts? “I will say, ‘you’re welcome’ to them every time.’ ”
In the first session at the high school, the students learned about recognizing symptoms and signs of cardiac arrest and how to administer treatment. They heard stories from survivors and watched a video about Tim Hoffman, of Ramsey, who went into cardiac arrest a couple of years ago. A mechanic at the time, he leaned against a piece of equipment, and the pressure stopped his heart. A co-worker administered CPR and saved his life.
“I had this overwhelming need to give back,” said Hoffman. “This kind of training is saving lives, and I thought, ‘It just makes sense. I can share my story.’ ”
In the second session, students and volunteer emergency responders, as well as cardiac survivors, crammed into the school’s fieldhouse, to practice doing compressions and using defibrillators.
Students learn bystander (compression-only) CPR, with compressions done at 100 per minute. (Platz recommends singing “Stayin’ Alive” because it has about 100 beats per minute, he said.) Compression-only CPR is most commonly taught these days, as keeping the brain oxygenated through compressions until emergency responders arrive is key, and administering breaths slows that process.
“After that third minute with no oxygen,” said Platz, “it’s anyone’s guess whether or not the brain’s even going to be healthy enough to regulate that heart, to get the heartbeat back.”
“What we’re doing is we’re becoming the heart,” said volunteer Norm Okerstrom. “We’re moving the oxygenated blood.” Okerstrom, whose son, Teddy, went into cardiac arrest at age 16 when running hurdles, works as the state coordinator for Parent Heart Watch.
“The key that saved Teddy was immediate chest compressions,” Okerstrom said, “and it saved his brain life as well. He has no brain damage.”
Coon Rapids High is a newly designated biomedical specialty school, and the program’s coordinator, Leah Sams, and some of her students helped orchestrate the Heart Safe sessions. While students have traditionally taken CPR in health class, she said, this program helps give them a better understanding of it and links them with industry professionals.
“I liked how many people were there and how engaged people were,” said volunteer Michelle Onyekaba, a sophomore in the biomedical program.
“We’re proving we can do it quickly and effectively on a mass scale,” said Platz. “When the final bell rings and school’s out, all 1,200 of the kids, they’re going to go off in separate directions into the community. Think of the ripple effect to go outward from the school.”
According to Hoffman, the city of Coon Rapids is approaching having 10,000 people trained in CPR. Since the Heart Safe program’s start there, the community has already increased survival rates for cardiac victims to 20 percent, Platz said.
“If we could get our survival rates to 50 percent, that would be excellent,” said Hoffman. “I think the kids are the key to this because the kids are willing to take action.”
Platz’s reason for helping launch the program is partly personal. His uncle suffered from sudden cardiac arrest at his cabin and floated in the water 10 to 15 minutes before rescuers could retrieve him. Platz’s aunt, a nurse practitioner, knew there was little chance he would survive after this length of time, but she did CPR anyway. He revived and lived another eight months.
“His story should have ended right there, at the lake that day,” he said, “but it didn’t because my aunt chose to fight for him. … Eight months, that’s another Christmas, that’s another Thanksgiving, that’s a lot of time to tell him you love him.”
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance writer.