By Todd Cohen
GREENSBORO, N.C. — The American Heart Association is shifting gears — and testing its new strategy in the Triad.
While still raising research dollars and helping people understand and prevent heart disease, the national charity will work harder to prepare people deal with sudden cardiac death.
The affliction, which kills 220,000 Americans a year – including an estimated 280 in Forsyth County and 350 in Guilford County — follows an acute event that gives no warning and sends the heart into an abnormal rhythm known as ventricular fibrillation.
Unless the heart returns to normal rhythm in seven to 10 minutes – usually by electric shock — the victim dies 95 percent of the time.
Yet few Americans know what do in such emergencies.
So the Heart Association it testing its new Operation Heartbeat in 125 communities, including Forsyth and Guilford counties.
The group has assessed 911 emergency dialing and local emergency medical services, or EMS, and surveyed 400 residents in each county about their understanding and use of 911 and cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, which includes cardiac massage and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
The survey found people generally willing to dial 911 in an emergency, although some groups – particularly people older than 55 – were less likely to begin CPR.
In Guilford, older people were least likely to dial 911 or use CPR, while women and older people were less likely to recognize chest pain as a warning sign for a heart attack.
And while they knew CPR, nearly three-fourths of Guilford residents indicated they would be “less than extremely likely” to use it.
In Forsyth, older residents were least likely to know and use CPR, compared to 52 percent of men and 45 percent of women.
And people 18 to 24 years old were least likely to know warning signs of a heart attack or to call 911.
Based on the assessments and survey, volunteer teams aim to raise awareness about warning signs of heart attack, and to increase understanding and use of CPR and 911 dialing.
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, for example, sponsored CPR training May 19 at eight Forsyth fire stations.
CPR promotions and training also were held May 21-25 at Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem. And in June, billboards in Guilford are promoting CPR use and 911 dialing.
On June 16, Guilford’s annual American Heart Walk will be held at Country Park. The event, expected to attract 1,500 people and net $150,000, is chaired by Henry Frye, former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, and co-chaired by Deborah Hooper, president and general manager of WFMY News 2.
Forsyth’s walk is scheduled for Oct. 20 at Tanglewood.
Paige Dalton is director of Operation Heartbeat for Guilford and Forsyth. Call 336-668-0167.