by Kathy Danforth / Published November 2014
Time is always precious, but in the case of a cardiac event, it can make the difference between life, permanent damage, and death. “For every minute without oxygenated blood, you can lose up to 10 percent of your heart and brain function,” states Lew Simon, developer of the Neighbors Saving Neighbors program. With emergency response usually taking more than five minutes, this means that those physically closest to a person in need can, with minor training and equipment, provide the greatest chance of helping a heart attack victim. Simon has been active in pulling together neighbors to be ready to step in immediately until professional help arrives. By training volunteers, purchasing an Automated External Defibrillator (AED), and tying into the 9-1-1 system, neighbors can and have been the first responders on site to rescue their fellow neighbors.
The first stages of preparing neighbors to assist began when Simon moved to Longboat Key and became president of his condominium. Simon had been involved as trustee for a fire prevention district in Illinois and was soon leading the volunteer firefighters in the area. “We were the first condominium in South Florida to have an AED,” he relates. “Ten years later, there were 120 AEDs in the hands of lay people in the area.”
Simon moved to The Villages, a 36-square mile “Disneyworld for active adults,” and brought his goals with him. “I talked to the neighbors on my circle and convinced them to buy two AEDs,” Simon recalls. “I’m an American Heart Instructor, so I trained 24 neighbors in CPR/AED.” “Then I went to Fire Chief Mike Tucker and explained, we’ve trained 24 people and have two AEDs, with one on the outside of my house. I’m an American Heart Instructor, but if a neighbor two doors down goes into cardiac arrest, he dies because I don’t know about it. I’d like to have lay people trained in CPR and AED tied into 9-1-1 dispatch for cardiac arrest just in our neighborhood, where we can arrive in a short period of time,” Simon explains. “The chief bought into it. The system had the capability, and he saw the value.”
“The first save was David Rowland, who lives two houses down from me. I was in Sarasota at the time, but someone else was there, and when my pager went off, my wife had already taken the AED over. The volunteer performed CPR for ten minutes, and when David got to the ER, the doctors said he wouldn’t live out the night. Eleven days later, he went home with no neurological damage and is still playing golf every week,” Simon says. “Keeping the oxygenated blood circulating delayed damage to the organs. A YouTube video labeled Neighbors Saving Neighbors has a great news broadcast of that incident.”
“We’ve had a second save on our circle,” Simon notes. “A 91-year-old woman suffered heat stroke and passed out. When her head went forward, it closed off her windpipe and caused cardiac arrest. Her husband called 9-1-1, and since this is a golf cart community, there were three golf carts with five people and an AED there in under a minute. This was four years ago, and she recovered and is still doing well.”
The system increased in efficiency when they were able to upgrade from pagers. “Pagers responded 70 percent of the time in 20 seconds to two minutes,” Simon recalls. “A company called ReadyAlert saw information on our program and contacted me because they could make it better. For less cost, we now are contacted by cell phone, text, e-mail, and home phone when the 9-1-1 dispatch goes out, and it’s 98 percent reliable within 20 seconds. That was a great step forward.”
“Neighbors Saving Neigh-bors isn’t a national organization—it just takes a motivated neighbor to take charge and get it done,” Simon comments. “There are currently 145 communities in The Villages with programs, which involves three counties. So far, five counties in Florida have programs, and it’s spreading as we get the word out.”
Simon has received the Dis-tinguished Service Award fromFlorida fire chiefs as well as the Community Education Award from the Florida firefighters. Presentations have been made to the National Fire Prevention Association, the International Fire Chiefs Association, and other groups to show what local citizens—with the assistance of emergency dispatchers—can accomplish.
The first step is gathering neighbors who are prepared to invest in an AED and training. “The manufacturer of the AEDs supports the program, so they are making AEDs available to communities at the state rate, which is currently $1,370,” Simon reports. “The fire department offers a CPR program, which is usually $35 per person, but if it is for this program, the fire department will provide training for free.”
“In The Villages, we do hands-only CPR,” according to Simon. “That widens the pool of people willing to train, since a lot of older people wanted to avoid mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The hands-only CPR is at least as good and may be better than conventional CPR, because the continuous chest compressions keep the blood from flowing back down.
Not everyone will be strong enough to do CPR, and it can be tiring. If there are enough people present, it is good to switch every two minutes. The AED hook-up and evaluation also give a brief break.”
When a group of local residents are trained and have acquired an AED, they can contact the fire chief and explain that they would like to receive notification of cardiac emergencies in their immediate area. “Now that the program is established, most fire chiefs have heard of the program, or they can contact the fire chief here at The Villages. If the neighborhood contacts me, I’ll talk to the fire chief with them. Every time a fire chief says he wants the program, it gets done. If it’s turned over to someone else who thinks it will involve more work, it tends not to get done,” Simon observes.
“When we start a new community, we’ll do a dry test with a mannequin. In every case, the neighbors have arrived before the emergency personnel. Throughout The Villages, we’ve had more than 15 lives saved,” Simon reports.
The principle that a neighbor who is near is better than a brother far awayis certainly apt for assisting in a crisis. The close proximity of residents in acondominium or homeowners association means less travel time at a crucialmoment. If you would like additional information or assistance in setting up a Neighbors Saving Neighbors program in your immediate vicinity, contact Lew Simon at AVLINE@aol.com with Neighbors Saving Neighbors in the subject line. Now is the best time to prepare for when every second counts.