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Tax collector's crusade is for and from the heart

Wherever she goes, from grocery stores to discount stores, Tax Collector Janice Warren wears a pin that depicts a little red dress. When people ask about it, they end up emptying their wallets and buying their own pins, giving $5 to a woman some begrudge for taking their money each year at tax time.

Twenty-five people have dipped into their pockets and purses and only one person has come up empty: She had neither cash nor check. The proceeds go toward buying defibrillators for the Citrus County Sheriff's Office to use.

There is one thing to remember when Warren comes around peddling pins.

"This," she said, "is a cause I believe in from the bottom of my heart."

Just more than a year ago, Warren's 23-year-old daughter, Amanda Richards, tried to pass a car on U.S. 19 near Veterans Drive. She lost control and drove across a median. Her 2001 Dodge jumped into a parking lot and struck two parked cars and a tree.

Richards, who went by "Mandi," was taken to Seven Rivers Community Hospital in Crystal River, where she died. She left behind a then-5-year-old-daughter, Shelby.

A defibrillator, which delivers an electrical current to revive hearts fading from sudden cardiac arrest, wasn't used on Richards at the scene. Warren isn't sure a defibrillator would have helped, but she wishes one had been available.

The chances of surviving cardiac arrest declines by 10 percent for each minute without defibrillation, according to Call Clear and Shock, a company that provides the machines. After 12 minutes, the chances of survival dips to less than 5 percent.

Electric currents revived the heart of Warren's 72-year-old father, Artis Gunn, in December when he suffered a heart attack. He happened to be sitting in a doctor's office at the time and survived after open heart surgery.

With both incidents weighing on her mind, Warren said she felt compelled to help the local chapter of the American Heart Association as it embarks on a campaign to buy defibrillators. The chapter _ Warren sits on the board of directors _ is trying to persuade Citrus County businesses and organizations to donate money to buy as many as 75 defibrillators, one for each sheriff's vehicle.

With so many strings pulling at her heart, Warren decided to add a second and more personal dimension to the campaign: In addition to helping seek larger donations, Warren, and her office, is selling the pins, which are part of an American Heart Association women's heart disease awareness campaign. The proceeds go toward purchase of defibrillators.

The pins, she said, can be a Valentine's Day gift.

"You're not only giving the gift of love," she said, "you're giving the gift of life."

Before the campaign began, the Sheriff's Office had only two defibrillators. One was used for training and another was based at the courthouse.

Since then, the agency has purchased four and has 11 more on order.

Like Warren, sheriff's training Sgt. Phil Royal said, people feel compelled to help buy the $2,000 machines because of similar tragedies.

"I want to donate for one of those units because I personally lost a husband, wife, whatever, because of heart problems," people tell him when he solicits donation for the Heart Association.

Warren hopes the $5 pins that she and the Tax Collector's office sell will help buy at least one more defibrillator. She carries 20 pins herself in a small plastic bag at all times and tries to sell them everywhere _ except at church.

For all who ask about the pins, she rattles off statistics as if they were tax laws: Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of U.S., Floridian and Citrus County women, according to the Florida Department of Health.

"Over 60 percent of all heart attacks are fatal," she will say. "The warning signs for heart attacks are different with women than men," and "while about 50,000 women die of breast cancer, a half-million die of heart disease."

And she will tell them that defibrillators save lives.

Coincidentally, as tax collector, Warren is responsible for issuing Florida's new "Stop Heart Disease" license plates, which raise money for the Florida Heart Research Foundation and other heart-related programs.

As for the defibrillators, Warren, her husband, Dave, and son, David, 22, have already purchased one for the sheriff's department.

It will have a nameplate affixed to it in memory of Mandi Richards, Royal said. Someday, he said, he hopes to give Warren a tally of all the lives the machine saved, as he will do for any group or person who buys one.

"It could potentially save multiple lives in her daughter's name," he said.

_ Justin George can be reached at (352) 860-7309 or