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National CPR and AED Awareness Week raises awareness on learning lifesaving skills

Brittany Williams, 28, survived going into cardiac arrest, thanks in part to CPR being administered. She lives now with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) in her chest to regulate her heartbeat. [Photo courtesy of Brittany Williams]
Brittany Williams, 28, survived going into cardiac arrest, thanks in part to CPR being administered. She lives now with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) in her chest to regulate her heartbeat. [Photo courtesy of Brittany Williams]
Published Jun. 5, 2019

Brittany Williams was ready for the perfect New York vacation.

She was preparing to enjoy shopping, dining at world-class restaurants and sightseeing. A Florida State University alumna, Williams found an FSU-themed restaurant in the city and made plans to enjoy a meal there before watching the televised 2014 ACC Championship football game featuring her beloved Seminoles.

But the 28-year old Tallahassee native never saw the game. Instead, she spent the rest of her vacation at Mount Sinai Hospital.

"My vacation turned into a staycation," she said. "I was reading the menu and then I woke up in a hospital."

Unconscious and unresponsive, Williams had gone into cardiac arrest.

Her mom yelled for a doctor. Luckily, two physicians were in the restaurant and came to her aid. Both were ophthalmologists in New York for a residency program that required them to learn CPR. Putting their skills to use, they administered CPR and saved Williams' life.

June 1-7 marks National CPR and AED Awareness Week, designated to heighten awareness on the lifesaving skills of knowing how to perform CPR and use an automatic external defibrilator, a portable device that can send an electric shock to the heart to restore its normal rhythm.

Williams never thought she was at risk of experiencing a cardiac event. She was 24 at the time, ran five miles a day and ate a healthy diet. She remembers feeling numbness and a tingly feeling on her left side beforehand, but she had ignored those symptoms, blaming them instead on the stress of working two jobs.

She awoke from an induced coma shocked and scared.

"I had all these machines hooked up to me, I had a tube down my throat. And I'm just kind of in a confused moment of, 'why am I sitting here?'" she said.

Williams was diagnosed with long QT syndrome, a rare heart rhythm disorder that can potentially cause fast, chaotic heartbeats. Surgeons placed an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, or ICD, in her chest. The device can detect abnormal and potentially dangerous heart rhythms and shock the heart back to its normal rhythm.

Sharon Williams, an American Red Cross Tampa Bay CPR instructor, said it's a common misconception that heart disease only affects those who are older, or overweight, or smokers.

"It's never been age specific," she said. "Anyone can have a heart problem. A baby can have a heart problem. So this is why everyone needs to know (CPR). Every minute that CPR is delayed in starting, the survival rate drops seven to 10 percent, so obviously we want to start it as soon as we can."

So why would someone be reluctant to learn CPR?

Sharon Williams said part of the problem was that classes haven't always been user friendly. At the Red Cross Tampa Bay, they're working to change that.

"(Participants) used to have to take a written test, so that would scare people," she said. "Now there's no written test and we've tried to simplify it to make it easier for them to understand."

That includes practicing on mannequins that light up when chest compressions are done correctly. They've eliminated the classroom setting and replacing it with blended learning, a computer-based system that allows users to learn the skills at their own pace.

"It's just such an easy life-saving technique that everyone can learn," Brittany Williams said.

For more information, or to sign up for CPR or AED training, contact the American Heart Association Tampa Bay or the American Red Cross Tampa Bay Chapter.

Contact Monique Welch at mwelch@tampabay.com or Follow Mo_UNIQUE_.