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Published: Sunday, June 12, 2005, 12:01 a.m.

A mother on a mission

After her daughter's sudden death, a woman vowed to improve access to defibrillators - and she took the first step at a preschool graduation.

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LAKE STEVENS - It wasn't a news conference or a photo-op on Capitol Hill, but it could have been.

Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald
Brianna Seek (center) waves to her family at the Country Dawn Daycare Center's pre-kindergarten graduation ceremony on Saturday, while Madison Shkurhan adjusts her mortarboard.
With a packed room of parents, teachers and siblings pointing dozens of cameras and video cameras at 24 preschool kids lining the front of the room, the atmosphere was ripe for a big announcement. And there was one. Actually, two. Besides celebrating the pre-kindergarten graduates of Country Dawn Daycare Center, Jill Frisk, the mother of Julia Frisk, said she was starting a communitywide effort to install life-saving defibrillators in any building where people gather in the Lake Stevens area. Frisk lost Julia, who was 5 in February, when the girl went into cardiac arrest on the day-care playground. There was a good chance her life could have been saved if a defibrillator had been available. Now, Frisk is on a quest to put automatic external defibrillators in "all places where we go to work, play and eat." Her mission begins with donating two defibrillators to the day-care center from Julia's Gardens Heart Foundation, Fisk's recently established nonprofit organization. The group wants to completely saturate the community with defibrillators, Frisk told about 60 people at the graduation. Frisk remembers her daughter as a "ball of fire" who was "either going 100 miles per hour or sleeping." She had a serious side, too. Julia would sometimes sit down for hours and draw, her mother said. And she was protective of her younger sister, Kayla, 2. Julia Frisk went into cardiac arrest when she was running around the day-care playground with her friends "and just collapsed," Frisk said. Her heart stopped pumping blood and she passed out, doctors said. Her mother said it was an experience that could happen to anyone with unknown or untreated heart conditions. "You're just there one minute, and then you're not," she said.

Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald
Jill Frisk donated two defibrillators to the school from Julia's Gardens Heart Foundation in honor of her 5-year-old daughter, Julia, who died of cardiac arrest in February.
Frisk is working four days a week to raise money for defibrillators, either from her Seattle home or her Lake Stevens-based skin care and body product businesses. She's looking for federal grants, fundraising opportunities or money she can raise by selling child-care books online. She's optimistic that after Lake Stevens becomes a "heart-safe community," other Snohomish County cities will become home to an army of life-saving defibrillators. "It's an achievable goal," Frisk said. Before her announcement, the preschool class of 2005 had filed into the room to perform for their families. The songs and chants went without a glitch - almost. In the middle of the "slippery fish" song, one performer announced, "I need to go pee." At intermission, Frisk stood beside a projected portrait of a smiling Julia. She told the parents of Julia's classmates that "as a community, we can do a lot of things to help friends and family." After the ceremony, Frisk said she didn't know anything about cardiac arrest until after her daughter's death. Now she carries a portable defibrillator with her wherever she goes. "Unless you know someone who it happened to, you think like what I thought: It only happens to other people," she said. Reporter Chris Collins: 425-339-3436 or ccollins@heraldnet.com.

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