We need a country-sized automated external defibrillator (AED) right now. An AED is the only tool that can save someone in cardiac arrest. If needed, it delivers a lifesaving shock.
If we hooked one up to this nation, the machine would run its diagnostics (like it always does) and probably make the following statement – “Assessing society . . . assessing society . . . shock advised.”
This week is CPR/AED Awareness Week. Simon’s Heart, and others like it, are supposed to capture your attention and educate you about the importance of CPR and AED devices. It’s not up for debate. These two things – a relatively easy hand motion and a $1000 device – dramatically increase the chance of surviving sudden cardiac arrest. Without them, the chance is about 12%, which is a big deal considering sudden cardiac arrest takes the lives of 350,000 adults every year.
But I can’t. That message has to wait. Our country is hurting. Life seems to be out of control. And, if I’m being honest, heart health is a luxury. Wow, bold statement coming from a guy who lost a son to sudden cardiac arrest, has a wife who lives with a heart condition that can result in sudden cardiac arrest, and runs an organization dedicated to preventing sudden cardiac arrest and death in children.
But it is. How can we expect a mother to care about an AED device at school if the walls are crumbling and there aren’t enough textbooks? Will a father of a seemingly healthy daughter take the time to learn CPR if he lost his job and is behind on rent? Is a student athlete really going to tell his coach about his racing heart if he needs that scholarship and his parents don’t have health insurance?
Can we really expect these families to focus on cardiac arrest? Studies consistently show that the rate of sudden cardiac death is higher, and occurs at younger ages in the black community. This is a very grim statistic . . . unless you are worried about food, shelter or security.
In the United States, infant mortality is two times higher among blacks than whites. African American children are less likely to be college-ready, and more likely to be suspended than white children. African Americans are five times more likely to be incarcerated than whites. African Americans are two times more likely to be unemployed than whites, and two times more likely to live in poverty. And, let’s not forget where we were three weeks ago – African Americans are three times more likely to die from COVID-19.
Simon’s Heart cannot achieve its mission, and America cannot fulfill its promise in the face of such disparity and inequality. The tragic and senseless deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd are the latest symptoms that our society is very ill.
In medicine, when one function of the body is threatened, other parts of the body respond to protect and heal it. This must be our path too. We must appreciate and understand the factors that bring harm to our fellow citizens. Then, we must work tirelessly to find a cure. Not a bandaid. Not a painkiller. Not a treatment. A cure.
There are very few instances where our body can function without all parts in working order. I don’t know how many times we need to be reminded that society works the same way. Relationships, friendships, workplaces, sports teams, schools and communities all fare better when everyone feels valued and secure.
Simon’s Heart will continue to do its small part to create a more just and equal society by bringing AED devices and heart screenings to underserved communities where kids learn and play. But our focus is narrow, so we’ll look to these organizations for perspective as we work to restore the collective health of this great country.
& Simon’s Dad
“It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either.” Pirkei Avot 2:16
National Birth Equity Collaborative (National)
Black Lives Matter (National)
Forbes Magazine has compiled a list of resources that promote empathy and understanding around the issues of racism and inequality.