A mother’s lifesaving mission: Heart-health education

By Julie Muhlstein

Herald Columnist

It was Friday morning, almost the weekend. Mountlake Terrace High School students were noisy as they filled the bleachers. An assembly was a chance to chat.

When Melinda Truax walked out on the Hawks’ gym floor and began to speak, kids quickly grew quiet.

“Today is a day to empower you on how to save a life,” the Edmonds woman said. “This is very important to me because of what happened to my son, Matthew.”

On Sept. 13, 2013, Matthew Truax collapsed while running on the Meadowdale High School track during a PE class. The 16-year-old junior died of sudden cardiac arrest. Melinda and Jerry Truax had not known that their son had a condition that caused an abnormal thickening of his heart muscle.

Since losing Matthew, a boy his mother described Friday as “the kind of kid who would stop and help anyone,” Melinda Truax has devoted herself to a lifesaving mission. “It’s my therapy,” she said.

She founded Heart of the Edmonds School District &Community Heart Safe Project, a nonprofit effort to provide heart-health education and raise money to equip the district’s schools and athletic venues with automated external defibrillators, known as AEDs.

Schools all have the devices, according to Layne Erdman, the Edmonds district’s safety-emergency preparedness specialist. For Truax, the big issues are access and training.

“What good is a machine if nobody knows how to use it?” she said.

To help make that question obsolete, the Heart Safe Project is visiting Edmonds district high schools to stage AED-CPR “flash mob” assemblies. Friday, it was Mountlake Terrace High’s turn.

Truax told her personal story, emphasizing the need for speed in getting someone help. Jim Thomas, a deputy chief with Snohomish County Fire District 1, shared statistics about sudden cardiac arrest. But the real lessons were performed to the beat of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.”

The flash-mob began with Mountlake Terrace junior Gene An, dressed as a clown, falling down at center court. “Our clown is down on the court,” Thomas told the crowd. “Would you know what to do?”

Instructions came fast as dozens of students, wearing “Keep Calm-Save a Life” T-shirts, ran out onto the gym floor. To that “Stayin’ Alive” disco beat, they kneeled down and demonstrated hands-only CPR on portable training dummies. A student helped the clown in distress as orders came to “call 911” and “bring an AED.” The school’s Hawk mascot joined the act, bringing the portable device.

The demonstration showed how the machine takes over, with audio and an illustrated guide. It gives instructions: “Apply pad to bare skin, exactly as shown in picture” and “everyone clear, deliver shock.”

“It’s as simple as that to save a life,” Thomas told students. “Call 911— that’s huge — start CPR and use an AED.”

Truax said her project gets funding from the Nick of Time Foundation, a separate nonprofit organization that sponsors heart screenings for area kids. The high school flash mobs have been staged in partnership with the Nick of Time Foundation, Fire District 1, the Lynnwood Fire Department and Servpro, a business sponsor.

Erdman said the Edmonds district provides first aid, CPR and AED training to “essential staff,” but added that newer AEDs are self-explanatory.

In the Edmonds district, he said, elementary schools have one device, middle schools have two, and high schools typically have three. He also said high school seniors in the district are now required to have CPR training before graduation.

Truax sees AED access as key, and said schools shouldn’t keep devices locked up or in offices far from where they may be needed. “If someone goes down with sudden cardiac arrest, you should be able to get to a defibrillator and back within 2 to 3 minutes. If it takes longer, that’s not good,” she said.

When Matthew collapsed, she said, school staff performed CPR and called 911. “No one used a defibrillator until EMTs got there,” she said.

Many schools have older devices, which Truax hopes to change. “The one available today is extremely different from the ones currently in our schools,” Truax said. The method of performing CPR also has changed, Erdman said.

Rather than mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, hands-only CPR — delivering chest compressions — is the simpler way now being taught. The “Stayin’ Alive” rhythm happens to work well, and people remember it. “Focus on keeping the blood flowing,” Erdman said.

“High school age students need to know and they need to believe that they can save a life,” Truax said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Heart project

The Heart of Edmonds School District &Community Heart Safe Project is a nonprofit group founded by Melinda Truax, whose son died in 2013 from sudden cardiac arrest. The group provides education on using CPR and automated external defibrillators (AEDs), and raises money to equip schools with AEDs.

A fund-raising event, “Save a life; Equip a Hero Auction &Gala,” is scheduled for 6-11 p.m. Feb. 28 at the Lynnwood Convention Center. www.heartofedmondssd.org/

The group works with the Nick of Time Foundation, which provides youth heart screenings. http://nickoftimefoundation.org

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