116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CORALVILLE — Even with COVID crippling community services and hampering projects and initiatives last year, a “heart safe community campaign” in honor of the late University of Iowa cardiology professor Richard Kerber did not skip a beat — so to speak.
And Thursday, almost exactly five years after Kerber died at 77, Iowa City and Coralville will commemorate “HeartSafe Day,” recognizing a Rotary-Kerber HeartSafe Community Campaign aimed at raising public awareness around sudden cardiac arrest, which results in 350,000 U.S. deaths annually; promoting CPR training; and expanding a public network of automated external defibrillators — or AEDs.
City leaders will celebrate HeartSafe Day during a Thursday gathering to include the Johnson County Ambulance Service, Community Foundation of Johnson County, and other donors to the campaign, which began with a Rotary grant in 2019.
“The Iowa City Noon Rotary — even during COVID — has been so energetic,” said Kerber’s wife Linda Kerber, also a UI professor and American women’s historian widely known for her writing and research.
The HeartSafe campaign was inspired by her husband, who was one of the founders of the Cardiovascular Emergency Care Committee of the American Heart Association and was instrumental in public-access defibrillation programs, getting AEDs into communities for bystander use.
Although some CPR training had to pause during the worst of COVID last year, the campaign continued its mission to create heart-safe communities by — among other things — placing more AEDs.
“Even during the close down of COVID, we have worked hard — and successfully — to put AEDs in houses of worship in Iowa City,” Kerber told The Gazette, stressing the need by asserting cardiac arrests increased during COVID. “Heart disease did not take a holiday.’”
In recent months, the campaign provided AEDs to local organizations through a cost-sharing program covering 75 percent for religious communities, nonprofits and other service clubs; 65 percent for small businesses of 10 employees or fewer; and 50 percent for larger businesses.
The campaign also donated $10,000 for Johnson County Ambulance Services’ use of PulsePoint, a 911-involved mobile app that alerts CPR-trained citizens when someone nearby is having a heart attack. The location-aware app not only alerts nearby citizens who’ve said they’re willing to help, but it directs them to the closest AED.
“Citizen CPR is critically important as, without resuscitation, survival declines 10 percent for every minute after a sudden cardiac arrest,” campaign medical director Dianne Atkins said in a statement. “Research has shown that community campaigns can increase survival to as high as 60 percent.”
Thanks to help from the campaign, Johnson County will integrate PulsePoint with its public safety communications center, according to ambulance service Director Fiona Johnson. So when the ambulance service takes a 911 call that might require CPR, a PulsePoint alert will dispatch to app subscribers.
Supporting citizen responders, the campaign has donated $13,600 for heated and secure AED enclosures for devices in public places “where sudden cardiac arrests are most likely to occur.”
“Citizens witnessing a sudden cardiac arrest can call 911 to trigger PulsePoint, begin CPR, receive the code to unlock the AED enclosure and initiate defibrillation before emergency responders arrive a few minutes later,” according to the campaign.
In its first annual report — recapping 2020 — the campaign reported raising $46,372 to purchase not only AED kits, but signs, trainers, and CPR manikins. Among its 2021 goals, it listed collaborating with local governments to facilitate HeartSafe Cities.
In the Iowa City and Coralville resolutions proclaiming Thursday to be HeartSafe Day, they acknowledge the need, the inspiration, and the campaign’s work to date.
“To be successful, public health campaigns must have the support of local government and engage the wider community,” campaign Chair James Merchant said in a statement. “HeartSafe Day will recognize and thank city and county officials and our many generous donors.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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