Hellstern Middle School staff practice emergency cardiac arrest response skills as part of the Heart Safe School designation process.

Shaw Elementary School and Hellstern Middle School are the first Springdale schools to be designated as Heart Safe Schools through the Project ADAM sudden cardiac arrest response program.

Project ADAM is a national organization committed to saving lives through advocacy, education, preparedness and collaboration to prevent sudden cardiac death, according to the nonprofit’s website. The organization was established in 1999 in honor of Adam Lemel, who was 17 when he suffered a sudden cardiac arrest and died while playing junior varsity basketball in Whitefish Bay, Wis. On-site defibrillation may have saved the student athlete’s life.

There are some 5,000 Heart Safe Schools nationally and 30 in Arkansas, said Charles Wooley, Arkansas Children’s Heart Institute Project ADAM coordinator. Northwest Arkansas has four Heart Safe Schools in the Springdale, Huntsville, and Gentry school districts. Har-Ber High School is also currently working toward the designation.

There are multiple benefits to becoming a Heart Safe School, Wooley said.

“My favorite one is that the school nurse builds a team of responders,” Wooley said. “A person having a cardiac event needs help fast and a lot of it. One person can't do this effectively, it takes a team.”

Shaw pursued the designation to further contribute to the safety and health of the school’s students in the event of a cardiac crisis, said Morgan Ludwick, the school’s nurse.

“The only thing we can control is how prepared we are to respond and handle any life-threatening situation,” Ludwick said. “Much like practicing safety with a fire or tornado, we believe it's important to practice safety for a cardiac event. Being prepared to provide a timely, safe, organized response will save a life.”

Hellstern Middle School staff practice emergency cardiac arrest response skills as part of the Heart Safe School designation process.

The designation provides an extra layer of protection for staff and students, said Laura Harkins, Hellstern Middle School nurse.

“We hope this designation helps alleviate concern and worry for parents and families and helps reassure them their children will receive quick and effective medical care when situations arise,” she said.

Gaining the designation included creating a school preparedness assessment to build the school’s response team and enhance response efforts, Ludwick said. Shaw staff used the assessment to develop an emergency response plan and to strategically recruit and train the school’s Medical Emergency Response Team.

Team roles include designated staff members to call 911, meet emergency responders, conduct chest compressions and deliver airway care, Wooley said.

Shaw’s 10-person team conducted monthly drills that were assessed by Wooley to practice automated external defibrillator and CPR skills and to continually improve its response time, Ludwick said. The team then put their skills to the test with the help of Springdale EMS and fire department staff members, receiving superior scores on their performance.

“This process gave us a valuable opportunity to grow both individually and as a united team,” Ludwick said. “I think the most important outcome of this process is that as a nurse I am 100% confident that my team can handle a cardiac emergency if I happen to be out of the building.”

Hellstern’s response team is comprised of 12 staff members, Harkins said.

“It was a great experience and actually a lot of fun to put a team together to quickly respond to emergencies,” she said. “I really enjoyed seeing our team learn how to effectively communicate, work together and troubleshoot in different scenarios. It's so nice knowing we have so many people willing to jump right in and help.”

Developing a comprehensive plan and putting it into place with surprise drills during busy school days was the most challenging aspect of the process, Ludwick said.

“Making the time to prioritize safety, even if it means disrupting routine, was an important piece,” she said. “I am thankful for all of our students and staff who helped make it possible.”

The designation process is free for participating schools and can take anywhere from two weeks to a year to complete, Wooley said.

The value of a timely and effected response to a cardiac emergency was demonstrated in January when Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest during a game, he said. Several Arkansas student athletes have also been saved through resuscitation in Arkansas, to include Springdale High School football player Mackenzie Phillips, who suffered and survived a cardiac arrest Nov. 7, 1986, during a game at the high school.

Becoming a Heart Safe School is reassuring for parents, Wooley said.

“As a parent of a child in school every day, I am comforted knowing his school has a team of responders that can save his life,” he said. “This is needed in every school in our state and across the country. Together we can change outcomes for our students and staff members during an emergency at school.”

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Shaw Elementary School emergency response team members train for a cardiac health crisis with the support of Springdale emergency responders.

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