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Saving Lives
One Heartbeat at a Time

By Audrey Hanes, Photography by Kayla Broadway

Since the Community Health Education Foundation began its Automated External Defibrillator Program in 2006, the nonprofit organization has placed 77 lifesaving devices in Northeast Arkansas. In the wake of numerous cancelled and postponed fundraising opportunities, CHEF is imploring the community to step up and help fund many of its necessary programs, including phase two of the AED Program, “And the Beat Goes On.”

The AED Placement Program started 14 years ago with a $10,000 grant that allowed 10 of the devices to be placed in schools, community centers and large facilities. When the grant was discontinued after two years and 20 AEDs, because one of the program’s AEDs had already saved a life, CHEF volunteers committed to continuing it themselves.

“In reviewing our programs and focus last year, we looked at what all we do and where are focus needs to be placed in the next 10 years,” said Emily Lard, CHEF executive director. “The AED Placement Program was a program that had been with us since the foundation’s early days, like an old friend. While looking deeper into the program, (and deciding) if we wanted to go on with this program, we found it may need to be one of our best friends.”

About the time CHEF was reevaluating the program, area AEDs and the training that accompanied them saved the lives of two members of the community.

Phil Cook, a member of First Free Will Baptist Church, was at church for Wednesday night Bible study when he had a funny feeling. The next thing he knew, he was laying on the floor in full cardiac arrest.

“My wife started giving me CPR, and Ronald Wheeless got the AED off and began using it on me; it shocked me three inches off the ground,” said Cook. “Everyone else around me started praying, and they called 911. When the ambulance and fire truck got there, I was already breathing on my own. I don’t remember all that, but the paramedics said it was a miracle that I was at a place with an AED on the wall and that those around me where able to respond correctly with it.”

The church had received the AED from CHEF just two weeks prior to Cook’s cardiac episode, and Cook says he would not be here today if he had not stayed at church after Bible study for some fellowship and had not been at a facility that had an AED available.

“I thank the Lord and that AED,” said Cook. “… I’m so thankful we had it and that God saw me through it. I thank the program that is putting those in place. After what happened to me, we as a church funded one to place somewhere else.”

Four weeks later, Teresa Runkel, the technology coach at Fox Meadow Elementary School, had a similar lifesaving encounter with an AED placed by CHEF’s program.

“On the morning of May 21, 2019, I had told a coworker I didn’t feel right; (I) couldn’t put into words just how I felt, but I was off,” said Runkel. “At 8:30, I was walking my students outside to watch the Special Olympic torch make its run past our school, and the next 15 days are a lost memory. I collapsed to the floor with a cardiac arrest. I owe my life to the fast actions of my assistant principal, Scott Nichols, who by the grace of God was standing at the end of the hall and immediately started CPR. Teachers cleared the students as the nurse, Sandy Adcock, rushed with the AED placed at Fox Meadow by the Community Health Education Foundation. They began the shocks and continued CPR until the ambulance arrived.

“I am here today because we had an AED placed and a trained staff to use it. ‘Thank you’ seems like two small words, but when people and organizations have done something with the magnitude as huge as saving your life, those words grow enormous. God had everything lined up that day. He placed the right person in the right place with the right tools at the right time. I am a one in seven statistic of surviving a cardiac arrest. I have a life story to write, and because of the Community Health Education Foundation’s AED and my Fox Meadow Elementary family, I have been given the pen back to finish the remaining chapters.”

Lard says that while CHEF purchases, places and trains staff on-site how to use the AEDs, due to rules like HIPPA, distance of placements, etc., the volunteers are rarely able hear the stories of how the AEDs save lives.

“These two stories came right at a time when we were deciding what to do with our AED program,” said Lard. “It was almost like God was saying, ‘CHEF crew, keep on working to get these out.’”

After Cook and Wheeless both spoke at a CHEF committee meeting. Lard said that sealed the deal to not only continue but to grow the AED Placement Program.

Recently, an AED saved another local life, this time that of a 14-year-old student.

“This year, we were contacted about a young fellow who had sudden cardiac arrest at his school and was saved by an AED; we placed an AED in that school many years back,” said Lard. “You see, when you place an AED, you hope it never has to be used, like insurance, but if it is needed, that AED use can make the difference between life and death.

“… Sudden cardiac arrest knows no age limit. It can strike anyone, at any time. As many as 7,000 children are struck down by sudden cardiac arrest each year.”

That young man was Luke Brodell, an active young student at Annie Camp Junior High; the school has three AEDs on-site, the first of which was placed by CHEF. On Dec. 29, 2019, Luke was at baseball hitting practice and went into sudden cardiac arrest. His father, Al Brodell, and his coach, Wade Brown, went into action. His father started CPR, and Brown called 911 while he was running to grab the AED that was in the gym. Luke’s mother, Erika Brodell, says that if it hadn’t been for CPR and the AED, Luke might not be here today.  

“Luke is a healthy, athletic teenager,” said Erika. “We never would have thought that at 14 years old he would have needed an AED. Luke’s story could have ended if his dad and coach weren’t trained in basic life-saving skills and there wasn’t an AED. Thankfully, CHEF and others had the foresight to ensure that lifesaving equipment was within reach.  

“Al and I would love to see enough AEDs in each school district for each building on the campus. We also would love each school to have enough for the teachers and coaches to take with them when they take students on field trips, away games, competitions, etc. This could be accomplished by having a bank of AEDs that the teachers and coaches could check out from the school offices for their travel.”

Lard says it is estimated that 95 percent of cardiac arrest victims die before reaching the hospital. CHEF’s dedicated volunteers aim to lower that statistic by making AEDs more readily available.

“The need for the AED Placement Program is there based on statistics and results right at home,” said the executive director. “After reviewing our program, it was decided we needed to take maintenance steps to acquire our own supporting data and search for a way to enhance the accessibility to AEDs. The group found the need to move into phase two of the AED Placement Program, ‘And the Beat Goes On.’

“We have developed And the Beat Goes On to meet the continued need of the placement of free AEDs, especially in community facilities such as high school gyms, performing arts centers, community centers, community parks and churches that house events with attendances of more than 100 individuals that range in age and have a high volume of weekly events throughout the year, (especially) considering those not having any AEDs in or near their facility first.”

Dr. Michael Isaacson, a cardiologist with NEA Baptist Clinic, has been instrumental in promoting the need for AEDs statewide. Isaacson works with Al Brodell, and after Luke was saved by an AED, the cardiologist offered his thoughts and ideas for the program to CHEF.

Lard says that Isaacson and Joyce Lemieux, NEA Baptist director of cardiovascular services, have been looking at the PulsePoint program and how it could be incorporated in the local community. To date, CHEF’s AED Placement Program has placed 59 AEDs throughout Craighead County alone, so it seemed to be a perfect fit. Lemieux presented the program at a CHEF committee meeting and is now working with the CHEF AED Placement committee to implement PulsePoint in the area.

“Although AED technically stands for Automated External Defibrillator, if you or your loved ones have ever experienced a need for this, you know them as life savers, lifeguards or godsends,” said Isaacson. “Fortunately, several in our region can personally attest to that. The Community Health Education Foundation has worked diligently to fund the purchase, placement and training necessary for these devices and should be applauded for the many lives impacted by their commitment to this cause.”

And the Beat Goes On will allow businesses and fitness facilities to purchase AEDs through the foundation at cost, including free CPR and AED training. To date, CHEF has placed 14 in for-profit businesses.

“We have placed 77 AEDs and trained staff in CPR and AED use in Clay, Craighead, Greene, Jackson, Lawrence, Poinsett, Randolph and Sharp counties, but there is still a great placement need,” said Lard. “There is so much more … that we could do with this program. We are great at placing and training, which we will continue to do, and now we are proven and ready to grow and enhance our program more with PulsePoint.

“Due to the COVID impact, our focus has been keeping the plan to grow and expand the AED Placement Program alive. We are reaching out to the community to support the program.”

Regularly scheduled fundraisers, such as the popular Red Dress Gala and Corporate Olympics, have been postponed, and the annual Heart & Sole Marathon, Half-Marathon, 5K and Corporate Walk will look different this year, as well.

CHEF’s goal is to raise $25,000, made easy by the nonprofit’s GoFundMe campaign. Individual or business donations can be given and can be made in honor or memory of a person if requested. To make a donation, visit charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/aed-placement-program-and-the-beat-goes-on. To request an invoice, email chefjonesboro@gmail.com or call (870) 931-4044, or mail a check to CHEF-AED Placement, 361 Southwest Drive, Box 140, Jonesboro, AR 72401. For more information, visit chefjonesboro.org.

The Community Health Education Foundation’s annual Red Dress Gala has been rescheduled for Feb. 6, 2021. Honorees include Dr. Susan Hanrahan, Health Advocate; Fred and Susan Cathcart, Ed Way Community Service and Support Advocates; Valerie Sills, Red Dress Ambassador; KAIT8, Professional Community Service and Support (more than 50 employees); Ground Crew, Professional Community Service and Support (less than 50 employees). For table reservations, call (870) 931-4044.