When Kristen Walenga was watching TV and saw Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin collapse in Cincinnati on Monday night, it hit very close to home.
Walenga, a teacher and mother of four, survived a sudden cardiac arrest in August 2019. She was at home when she collapsed on her kitchen floor and her eldest son started CPR, having the same response immediate contact that the medical team had with Hamlin on Monday evening.
“There couldn’t be a bigger wake-up call that America is watching. What are we going to do about it?” Walenga said.
As a survivor, Walenga has made it her mission to educate others on the importance of CPR and teach them the basics.
“I teach quick courses to friends, family, who I can make listen to,” Walenga said, buying four of his own training manikins and automated external defibrillators, better known as AEDs.
Illinois has a law, passed in 2014, that requires all high school students to learn CPR and use an AED.
Walenga thinks it’s an essential lesson, but was surprised when he asked friends and family while researching what programs schools were using
“Some people found out, talking to their own children, that they didn’t learn it in school,” Walenga said.
“The problem is that not all mandatory laws are funded. These are unfunded mandates, but we can help,” said Dr. Stuart Berger, division chief of cardiology at Lurie Children’s Hospital and medical director of the ADAM project, which stands for Automated Defibrillators in Memory. Adam.
Launched in 1999 in memory of a Wisconsin teenager who died of sudden cardiac arrest while playing basketball, Project ADAM helps schools nationwide develop an emergency action plan. Lurie Children’s became the Illinois affiliate for the ADAM Project in 2019.
“We want to help. We want everyone on the plant to know about CPR and how to use an AED,” Dr. Berger said. “For schools that need a phase of help – learning CPR, getting an AED in a school – we can help you become ‘Heart Safe’, which means you have an action plan for emergency.”
Nationwide, there are currently 4,129 Heart Safe schools, with over 200 lives saved nationwide.
In Illinois, there are currently only two schools that have the “Heart Safe” designation, with 20 schools enrolled in the program.
That doesn’t mean other schools don’t have emergency plans in place, but Dr. Berger says Project ADAM will review those plans, free of charge, to ensure the school is prepared for a medical emergency. like Damar Hamlin’s sudden cardiac arrest.
“You do the exercises. You practice, and Project Adam is dedicated to, among other things, helping you, so schools are ready, just like they were on the football field in Cincinnati,” Dr. Berger said.
Kristen Walenga knows firsthand that in this life or death situation, a quick response can make all the difference.
“I strongly believe that you don’t need to be certified to give someone life-saving CPR,” Walenga said.
Local schools interested in becoming Heart Safe can contact Lurie’s ADAM Project team at email@example.com.