Plymouth’s Heart Safe Initiative aims to save lives

Teddy Okerstrom, 16, went into Sudden Cardiac Arrest on the Wayzata High School football field while running sprints on June 16, 2009. Teddy’s heart experienced ventricular fibrillation, meaning his heart stopped pumping blood and was doing little more than quivering. Teddy was clinically dead.

Coaches and players from the Trojan Power program immediately began a chain of response. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation began, 911 was called and an Automated External Defibrillator was retrieved from the high school gymnasium.

Because of the quick reaction of the individuals involved, Teddy’s heart was restarted, and he’s alive today.

Teddy’s experience is not isolated. Sudden Cardiac Arrest occurs in roughly 350,000 Americans annually, and the national survival rate is as low as 7 percent.

The Rotary Club of Plymouth recognized the need and is working through its new Heart Safe initiative to better prepare the community for survival.

Heart Safe is a collaboration between the Rotary Club, Minnesota Sudden Cardiac Arrest Survivors Network and Allina Hospitals and Clinics to educate and train businesses and residents at no cost in CPR techniques and AED operation.

Russ Carlson is the Plymouth resident and Rotarian leading the initiative to earn for Plymouth the Heart Safe Community designation.

Carlson said that two-thirds of the time when someone goes down with Sudden Cardiac Arrest, nobody does anything. In only a third of the cases is their an attempt to perform CPR or search for a defibrillator.

Through Heart Safe, Carlson hopes to ensure that residents of Plymouth aren’t part of the majority who watch helplessly when a victim needs a assistance.

“Just imagine: you’re one of the two-thirds and happen to be in an area, let’s say the mall, and somebody falls down in front of you,” Carlson said. “How would you feel if you and three other people stood there and looked on, didn’t have a clue what to do, and the person died?”

The Rotary Club is offering free one-hour training sessions to organizations, businesses, churches and schools.

The training session teaches participants how to begin the chain of reaction and utilize hands-only CPR and operate an defibrillator.

Carlson said the hands-only CPR requires 100 compressions a minute and a depression of two inches into the chest. He said this process can sometimes break ribs, but people are advised to continue and it can take five to 10 sequences for the heart to resume beating.

CPR compressions act as an artificial means of pumping blood to the brain and organs of a body, keeping the victim alive until defibrillation occurs.

An AED is a device that analyzes the heart’s rhythm. AED units feature spoken word instructions to the user and will deliver an electrical shock to the victim to re-establish an effective rhythm if needed.

AEDs are designed safe to use in any situation and should not cause harm.

Norm Okerstrom, Teddy’s father, Minnesota Coordinator for Parent Heart Watch and lead trainer for the Rotary’s Heart Safe program, said that preparedness is a matter of life and death.

A Heart Safe training session will teach people how to act fast, and time means everything with a Sudden Cardiac Arrest victim.

“For every minute that you delay defibrillating someone that’s in ventricular fibrillation, you lose them by 10 percent,” said Okerstrom. “The first minute to three minutes is the most critical time.”

Okerstrom stressed the fact that Sudden Cardiac Arrest isn’t the same as a heart attack or Myocardial Infarction.

A heart attack results from blockage of a blood vessel and stops oxygenated blood from flowing to the heart. A Sudden Cardiac Arrest is an electrical malfunction of the heart and can be caused from a preexisting condition, a portion of damaged heart muscle or a genetic disposition.

Okerstrom said Sudden Cardiac Arrest could happen to anyone.

“It’s like a ticking time bomb,” he said. “And many times, the first symptom that you have a heart condition is death. It can happen to young people, old people, white people, black people, rich people, poor people; it doesn’t matter.”

His son Teddy never showed any symptoms prior to his incident and no specific cause was determined. Teddy is 19, and has no further complications.

Aside from promoting preparedness through Heart Safe, the Plymouth Rotary is also working to encourage and assist with acquisition of AEDs and placing existing AEDs on the National AED Registry.

When an AED is on the registry, its location is available to 911 operators so they can instruct a caller where the closest AED is and allow for faster reaction time.

The Rotary will also aide a business or organization in purchasing a unit. Carlson said that AEDs cost $1,200 to $2,500 and that the Rotary can help defray the cost through its Heart Safe budget.

“It’s a public safety issue,” Carlson said. “We’d like to get to the point where AEDs are so commonly placed and available, and training has been so widely disbursed, that death will never occur when there are people around. You’ll always have one or more people that are prepared to act.”

The Rotary began training its own members last September, and have either completed or scheduled trainings at around 25 other businesses and clubs in Plymouth.

Carlson estimates that Heart Safe has trained more than 200 people thus far. Each person who has participated in the program receives a wallet-sized card that identifies him or her as having completed the training.

Heart Safe designation is determined in relation to a city’s population and is measured through awarding “Heartbeats” for the completion of the initiative’s core program.

According to Allina’s program, Plymouth must obtain 750 “Heartbeats” to earn the title of Heart Safe Plymouth. Carlson estimates the work the Rotary Club has done already exceeds the 750 “Heartbeats” required and plans to apply for designation in the spring.

However, the Rotary will not stop at the designation and plans to continue offering the service to those interested.

Carlson said future plans include training Wayzata School District administrators, doing community-wide training sessions at the Plymouth Creek Center, training middle school students and working with the City of Plymouth to be included in community education programming.

Okerstrom and Parent Heart Watch also recently assisted in approving the CPR in Schools Bill in Minnesota, which requires all 7th through 12th graders to take a CPR and AED course prior to graduating high school.

Having a prepared community, and learning these basic and simple tools could mean saving a number of lives.

“It’s kind of a no brainer,” Carlson said. “Why wouldn’t somebody want to do this? You have this opportunity, it’s only going to take an hour and it could save lives. There’s no good reason for anybody to not take this chance.”

Okerstrom readily shares Teddy’s story of survival at training sessions and works in everyday life to ensure that more victims experience the type of response that saved the life of his son.

“If only people really understood the heartache that many, many parents around the country have gone through. They’ve lost their kids and wonder ‘what could we have done?’” Okerstrom said. “In our case, we’re the ones who feel lucky that Teddy survived. But I’ve met so many parents around the nation who’ve lost their kids. This happens, and it happens without warning.”

To schedule a free class with the Plymouth Rotary and Heart Safe, email [email protected] or visit for more information.