DENVER, CO — More than 12,000 kids die every year from a hidden heart condition. That’s a sobering statistic. One that prompted Rich Perse and his wife Nancy to take action. They knew these Sudden Cardiac Arrest deaths were preventable. They had no immediate connection to any SCA victims yet felt the weight these families likely experienced. Nancy, a cardiac nurse. and Rich, an AED implementation specialist. They stepped forward in 2014 to bring change in Colorado.
Today, they head up the Play with Heart Foundation. This state-wide organization works to promote primary and secondary Sudden Cardiac Arrest prevention.
Kickstart My Heart
In 1989, Rich, a former fire fighter/paramedic founded Heartsmart, Inc. This unique company provides emergency training programs, safety certifications for schools and business, and assists with AED programs. Soon after Rich became an implantation specialist in the field. Hearing of his expertise, a group approached Rich about an opportunity for change.
This group of young British athletes was working in Boulder at the time. But growing up in London, they lost a friend at age 12 to Sudden Cardiac Arrest. There were seeking to start a new foundation in his memory called Kickstart My Heart. Their goal was to provide training state-wide in CPR and AED use. They also wanted to donate AEDs to local schools and athletic schools. Rich happily jumped on board with this new foundation to become their consultant. Soon after, they began purchasing AED’s direct from Heartsmart to be donated to venues that the Foundation identified.
A New Vision
With transitions in life, Kickstart My Heart disbanded in 2014. But Rich saw the impact it having across the state and knew there was potential for something greater.
“I felt this mission was just too good to stop,” says Rich. That’s when he formed Play With Heart as a way for the Foundation to continue on. With his wife as an experienced cardiac nurse, this leap wasn’t a far one. Together, they brought with them a strong medical background that would serve them well.
Rich had other motivators to continue to champion the cause. He’d crossed paths with many parents who had lost a child to Sudden Cardiac Arrest. Three in particular were part of the driving factor in his decision: A three-year-old preschooler in Denver. A 3rd grade student who died on her school’s playground. And a sixteen-year-old swimmer who died in a friend’s kitchen.
From there, Play with Heart was born.
Primary & Secondary SCA Prevention
Play with Heart is now in its 5th year. They work throughout Colorado to promote both primary and secondary measures of prevention. Their primary measures include providing access to heart screenings across the state. Through Project Play with Heart, the Foundation seeks to make preventative heart screenings available and affordable. They attend health fairs across the state of Colorado to provide these vital screens to youth ages seven to nineteen. There, they also promote secondary prevention measures. These include demonstrations and trainings on Hands-Only CPR and AED use, as well Stop the Bleed demos.
“By including the demos, we are educating the public on cardiac emergencies,” says Rich of the way their events are unique. Some events even include a sports combine to help keep youth active while awaiting their screen.
Play with Heart also believes in making AEDs more widely available. Through the Foundation, they raise money for AED donations. They are then purchased through a national supplier to be donated to a schools and other locations.
Most recently, a mutual connection of Heartsmart donated 25 AEDs to be given to the needy schools on Rich’s list.
Rich has never forgotten those three children who served as his motivation. He placed AEDs in the facilities significant to the stories of those kids. One year after placing an AED in memory of the sixteen-year-old swimmer, a cheerleader’s life was saved. That’s success.
Why It Matters
Play with Heart’s story is a demonstration of why this medical crisis matters. Preventative heart screens are often not given because people are unaware they are needed. Parents of athletes are not offered heart screens for their kids during routine physicals. Play with Heart is seeking to change that norm. They are spreading awareness through their appearance at various health fairs. And are making heart screens more commonplace by taking steps for them to become more widely available. The Emerg-A-Center supports their work in making an impact on the Sudden Cardiac Arrest crisis.
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