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Heart Association and Rochester Regional launch effort to double heart attack survival rate

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The American Heart Association of Rochester has partnered with Rochester Regional Health to work toward what they call a more “heart smart” community.

The organizations will spend the next two years educating and training the most vulnerable communities — including women, Blacks and Latinos, and those living in rural areas -- on heart disease prevention and life saving techniques.

“We know that in order to save more lives from cardiac arrest that occur outside of the hospital, we really want to increase the number of people who respond to cardiac arrest,” said Megan Vargulick, executive director of American Heart Association of Rochester.

About 90% of people who experience cardiac arrest outside of a hospital die, according to the American Heart Association. Vargulick said training bystanders to first call 911, then perform high quality CPR and use AED equipment, will help the association double the regional survival rate by 2030.

“Right now, unfortunately, under resourced zip codes have shorter life expectancies than their neighbors that are just a couple of miles away,” Vargulick said. “People in often remote rural areas face significantly higher death rates from heart disease and stroke.”

The joint campaign will place an emphasis on servicing those rural communities. Because of the distance, RRH senior vice president for community affairs David Simpkins said it takes ambulances some time to get those areas — placing much of the responsibility on bystanders.

“Time is of the essence in a lot of those communities,” Simpkins said. “Churches are really sometimes first responders when someone is undergoing a cardiac episode.”

For that reason, the organizations will conduct most trainings in faith communities and restaurants in hopes of reaching the masses and creating more “lifesavers.”

Racquel Stephen is WXXI's health, equity and community reporter and producer. She holds a bachelor's degree in English literature from the University of Rochester and a master's degree in broadcasting and digital journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.