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Area DNR officers get life-saving AED units

Imagine being out on a hike in the Brainerd lakes area with a loved one when they begin to have shortness of breath and chest pains.

Miles from medical help, seconds make a difference in surviving a sudden cardiac arrest. A donation is placing automated external defibrillators in the field with DNR conservation officers in Crow Wing County. The donation is made possible by Essentia Health's Take Heart Program

Through the Take Heart Program at Essentia Health in Brainerd, all nine conservation officers received a free AED unit. The program aims to improve survival rates of people who suffer a sudden cardiac arrest by distributing AEDs throughout the community.

Take Heart Program Coordinator Colette Larson delivered the devices to the Brainerd DNR office Wednesday. She provided training on proper use of the units. While she says the units can seem intimidating, they are really quite intuitive and provide several prompts to the user.

"The unit won't let you shock someone who doesn't need to be shocked. It is a very smart device," Larson said. "But if that person's heart has stopped and you don't use the AED, they could die."

Conservation Officer Tom Provost says the AEDs will be greatly appreciated. He and his colleagues already use AEDs when assisting other law enforcement agencies, but this is the first time the officers will have their own units in the field. He says having the units could be the difference between life and death.

"The donation means having nine more units that much closer to any potential incidents," Provost said. "This could be very helpful with all of the water work that we do in the summer months and could save a life after a near-drowning."

Shelli Urness, executive director of Essentia Health's St. Joseph's Foundation, says the AEDs are provided free of charge to nonprofit groups in the Brainerd area.

"Our goal is to find community groups, organizations and churches that would be willing to have an AED placed in their facility. The facility should have a community room that is used for public gatherings," Urness said in a news release. "The groups must also be willing to get training in how to use the AEDs and how to perform CPR."

Interested groups can contact Take Heart Program coordinator Colette Larson for an application and more information. She can be reached at 822-3961 or

This initiative is funded by the Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Foundation, the CentraCare Health Foundation and private donations.