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Learning young to save lives

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Take heart, Brainerd area residents - hundreds of people are being trained to save lives.

And most of them are only in the ninth grade.

Essentia Health recently launched a nationally recognized program called Take Heart America as part of its outreach through the Brainerd Lakes Heart and Vascular Center.

Colette Larson, a registered nurse, has been hired as the Take Heart Coordinator at Essentia Health's St. Joseph's Medical Center.

The primary goal of the program is to improve survival rate from out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest. This is being done through two program components - use of cardio pulmonary resuscitation training and the deployment of automated external defibrillators to local nonprofit groups that offer community gathering spaces.

On Wednesday, students in Geri Skogen's health, wellness and fitness class at Brainerd High School South Campus were taught how to give compressions on a "Mini-Annie" half-dummy and how to use an automated external defibrillator.

"We thought it was an unbelievable opportunity for a couple of reasons," Skogen said as her students, aided by nurses and nursing students, sat in groups of five in the South Campus hallways to learn about resuscitation.

The first reason, Skogen said, was Larson provided nursing staff to assist the students in learning how to respond to cardiac arrest, which allowed five students per teacher instead of 35 students per teacher.

"In the past we have taught this and we've tried to have students go through it but it was challenging with the number of students and the time allowed," Skogen said.

The second reason was Take Heart America provided the "Mini-Annies," which the students get to keep. The dummy also comes with a DVD students can share with their families.

"Our goal is to have them teach many, many, many others," Skogen said. "The exposure of these kids to emergency situation - I don't know if there are more of them these days - but the more mature they are about it the better they can handle it. Hopefully that can be the first link to survival for people."

Larson said cardiac arrests are happening more often to younger people. She noted recent examples of 17-year-olds in Pequot Lakes and Pierz, and of a 12-year-old in Andover.

"It's not just the 60-, 70- and 80-year-olds any more. It's not just the old people," Larson said. "This is kind of one of those things where the kids are realizing they're not invincible any more."

Larson is coordinating CPR training and automated external defibrillator deployment within the community, beginning with all ninth graders in the Brainerd and Pillager school districts. Two weeks ago Larson taught the course to 27 ninth-graders in Pillager. In a follow-up meeting with those students, she learned that a total of 85 were trained after the students took the information home with them.

Larson plans on returning to Brainerd High School in November and in the spring, as well as Pillager next semester.

"We're not only making the student knowledgeable but making family members knowledgeable," Skogen said. "We're teaching beyond the classroom. We're expounding on their knowledge to go on to parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters."

CPR used to be all about the ABCs - airway, breathing and circulation - Larson said. Now the kids are being taught the CABs - circulation, airway, breathing.

That means starting with chest compressions first, as Skogen's students practiced for 30 seconds each Thursday on their "Mini-Annies."

"The reason they went to compression first is you have enough oxygen in your blood stream for the first few minutes of cardiac arrest," Larson said. "You need somebody to keep circulating that oxygen to keep the brain and heart alive."

After practicing compressions on their "Mini-Annies," students paired off to go through their own scenario - asking someone to call 911, starting compressions and finally deploying an automated external defibrillator.

As part of the second program component, Essentia Health is taking requests from nonprofit organizations that are interested in deploying automated external defibrillators and receiving training. The program and equipment will be provided free of charge to selected nonprofit groups, and is funded in part by St. Joseph's Foundation, CentraCare Health Foundation and from private donations.

Larson noted that most places she offers the program have defibrillators but don't know where they are located.

Nonprofit groups that are interested in applying for the automated external defibrillators and training may contact Larson at (218) 822-3961.

MATT ERICKSON may be reached at or 855-5857.