Staff Writer

As her fellow passengers panicked, 15-year-old Sara Broski, of Alamo, stepped up to the plate and calmly saved the Clayton woman's life. She knew what to do thanks to her recent CPR training.

"I was very proud of her," said Sara's father, John, "because she was brave enough to step up and do something in an emergency situation when there were a lot of other people standing around, and none of them would step forward, even if they knew CPR."

Two weeks ago, at the rollout of the HeartSafe Community Initiative, Sara was honored for her heroism. The quick-thinking teen could be a poster girl for the initiative, which Contra Costa County's health department hopes will encourage more residents to learn and use CPR.

Sara was taking BART from Oakland to Walnut Creek on her daily commute from College Preparatory School to Alamo, when the train stopped at a station and she heard an emergency medical announcement, her father said. Sara had learned CPR just three weeks prior for a lifeguard certificate she needed to be a camp counselor, but she did not hesitate to help, her dad said.

Pam Dodson, of the health department's Emergency Medical Services Division, said Sara's actions exemplify the goals of the new initiative.

"Sara and I both feel that (Sara's actions) shouldn't be the exception. That should be the norm," Dodson said. "If more people were prepared to do CPR, we know we'd increase the survival rate from sudden cardiac arrest."

Sara, who is away working as a camp counselor, was unavailable to comment for this story.

The HeartSafe Community initiative establishes a point system to motivate each city to take certain steps to ensure cardiac safety, Dodson said.

"HeartSafe is a way to sort of standardize everything, to set a goal based on the size and population of each city," said Joanne Leibe, community outreach coordinator for the county's Emergency Medical Services. "HeartSafe is a relatively new thing, but the whole idea behind it is not."

There are existing cardiac safety measure, such as with the enhanced 911 system. When someone calls 911 and alerts the dispatcher of a sudden cardiac arrest, the address is tracked and the dispatcher can notify the caller of the steps to take to perform CPR, and whether there is an automated external defibrillator nearby, Dodson said.

The HeartSafe Community initiative adds structure to pre-existing systems by awarding points to cities for every automated external defibrillator in targeted community areas where large groups gather, such as senior centers and schools.

Cities also can earn points for healthy weight and nutrition orientation, footpaths and tobacco control, Dodson said.

The CPR training goal is set at 10 percent of the population, so more points are awarded for available CPR classes in the community, Dodson said.

She said the HeartSafe initiative is important because the nationwide save rate for sudden cardiac arrest has shown little if any improvement for years, consistently hovering near 5 percent or 6 percent.

Unlike other diseases that draw awareness through walks or public fundraisers, the seriousness of the threat of sudden cardiac arrest is somewhat unknown, especially because with there are often few warning signs, Dodson said.

"We don't hear a lot about it," she said, "(but) sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of natural death, more than lung cancer, breast cancer, and AIDS combined."

Reach Larissa Klitzke at 925-847-2160.

CPR TRAINING
  • To find a CPR training location, visit www.cchealth.org