Healthy Living Local Spotlight

A Survivor on a Mission

Lynne Blake’s Starting Hearts pumps CPR knowledge into the Valley.
“Don’t be afraid to save a life”.

It was Valentine’s Day and Lynne Blake had just returned to Vail from her honeymoon. The 27-year-old was slim, fit and happy, yet the unthinkable happened. She was in a meeting at work when she slumped in her chair from sudden cardiac arrest. She was very lucky. A co-worker knew CPR. The fire department was across the street, and first responders arrived with a defibrillator within minutes. She was rushed to the hospital. “I owe my improbable survival and successful recovery to the immediate and effective CPR response and early defibrillation,” Lynne says. Someone else with a new marriage and a career to build might just have thanked her lucky stars and gone on with her life, but not Lynne. “I felt that my life was saved for a purpose,” she says. And that purpose was to ensure that in the Vail Valley everyone, and she does mean everyone, would have prompt access to CPR and defibrillation.

In 2010, Lynne founded Starting Hearts, a non-profit dedicated to saving lives through CPR and AED (Automated External Defibrillator) education and awareness. Since then, she has made building the organization her full-time job, attracting committed volunteers and an advisory board that includes some of the community’s most respected physicians.

Living up to the Starting Heart’s motto, “Don’t be afraid to save a life,” Lynne and her volunteers provide 250 days worth of training to schools, businesses and community organizations each year. The organization’s 45-minute hands-on program is free. Since 2010, they have taught over 7,000 people how to recognize that someone may be suffering from sudden cardiac arrest, administer CPR and use an AED. The nerve center of this operation is the HeartRod™, a decommissioned transit bus converted into a CPR/AED classroom on wheels – the bus is emblazoned with flames and hearts and is easily recognizable. When you enter, don’t expect to find a sterile medical environment. The training dummies are dressed in colorful outfits and each one has its own story – which engages both young people and adults and brings home that the skills they are acquiring will save real lives. For those who want to take the training further, Starting Hearts offers American Heart Association CPR & AED Certification Classes.

Educating the public is only part of the battle. The availability of defibrillators is just as important. Lynne explains that for every minute that you have to wait for defibrillation, the chance of surviving sudden cardiac arrest goes down 10 percent. So, her goal is to install an additional 400 free-standing AED units throughout the Valley, including to its spread-out residential areas. She is encouraging individuals and organizations to sponsor these units, which would be installed and maintained by Starting Hearts. The Starting Hearts website includes a map of existing and proposed AEDs in Eagle County, which can be bookmarked for emergency access. Once the defibrillators are available, how will you quickly contact someone who knows how to use one?  Lynne has thought of that too. She has devised the Neighbor Saver program, a registry of “citizen rescuers” whom Starting Hearts would page through reverse 9-1-1 system alerts when their help is needed.

Even the organization’s yearly benefit is a hands-on exercise in promoting cardiovascular health. Last year, admission to the morning-long event, held at Vail’s elegant Sebastian hotel, included EKGs, cholesterol screening, carotid artery and venous ultrasounds, and, time permitting, a chance to speak with Vail cardiologist Dr. Larry Gaul. This was all followed by breakfast and a talk by Dr. Morton Mower, co-inventor of the implantable defibrillator. Participating organizations included the Vail Valley Medical Center, Eagle County Paramedic Services and the Rocky Mountain Vein Institute.

So what’s next for Starting Hearts?  Lynne Blake thinks big. Her ambition is to train another 25,000 people prior to the 2015 Vail/Beaver Creek World Ski Championships. “This is a great community, and if we pull together, we can do it,” she says. While you are in the Valley, Lynne Blake wants your heart to be safe with us.