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Nurse volunteers spread awareness about sudden cardiac arrest

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Jenny Keylon, RN

Every time Jenny Keylon, RN, BSN, teaches students how to perform CPR and use an AED, she watches them conquer their fears about saving lives. As a volunteer with the Nick of Time Foundation in Mill Creek, Wash., she regularly demonstrates these basic lifesaving skills to students.

Keylon, an electrophysiology nurse at Seattle Children’s Hospital, is one of about 100 RNs — along with physicians, allied health professionals and community members — whose volunteer efforts with the foundation are helping prevent sudden cardiac arrest in youth across the state. The nonprofit foundation aims to educate schools, athletes, families and communities about which steps to take if someone goes into SCA.

“Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in exercising young athletes,” Nick of Time Foundation Executive Director Darla Varrenti said. “It happens every three days in the U.S. Most [victims]have hidden cardiac abnormalities with no warning signs until suffering a sudden cardiac arrest.”

Teri Burt, RN

Varrenti’s son, Nick, died from SCA. The incident spurred her to establish the foundation.

SCA also resonates with nurse Teri Burt, RN, a certified wound care specialist at the Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine Center at Cascade Valley Hospital in Arlington, Wash. Her daughter, Kayla, was a basketball player at the University of Washington when her SCA occurred. Burt and Kayla now volunteer with the organization.

“It’s important to me to try to do as much as I can as the parent of a survivor,” Burt said. “I get out there and talk to people, and educate as a mom and as a clinician.”

The foundation, in partnership with the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, conducts about 10 on-site heart screenings for 14- to 24-year-old athletes throughout the state. Burt helps with the screenings and attends fundraisers and events to raise awareness of SCA and how to perform life-saving emergency measures.

Burt and Keylon often work the checkout tables during screenings to review athlete’s exams, which include blood pressure, heart auscultation, ECG and family history, with each student and to discuss any recommended follow-up care.

At each event, about 400 athletes are screened and three to five students are referred for follow-up care, Keylon said, which may require a thorough cardiac exam, an internal defibrillator or surgery.

Volunteer nurses Marti Wick, RN, (right, yellow shirt) and Jody Sanayei, LPN, perform youth cardiac screenings during a Nick of Time Foundation event.

Hands-only CPR and how to use an AED is taught during each screening event. The foundation provides the training to enable more citizens and bystanders to potentially save lives.

“I hear the kids say, ‘The AED is so cool, we’ve seen it hanging in the hallway [at school]but didn’t know how to use it,’” Keylon said. “That’s why teaching students makes such a difference.”

Burt said taking the fear out of using an AED is essential. Many people are afraid they’ll hurt the victim because they haven’t used the device. Burt reassures trainees they are protected by law when attempting to save someone’s life. “By taking the fear out and talking about it, we’re raising awareness,” she said.

Keylon and Burt urge that AEDs be stored in central places where everyone can access them without a key. At athletic events, Keylon said the device should be in someone’s possession at the playing field during outside sports, not secured in a gym.

“Nurses have a responsibility to talk to people and educate them about using AEDs,” Burt said. “Keeping the conversation going will save lives.”

For information on the foundation, visit www.NickofTimeFoundation.org.

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Karen Schmidt, RN, is a freelance writer. Send letters to editorWest@nurse.com.

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