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10 steps to organizing a cardiac arrest survivor celebration

Survivor celebrations promote awareness of cardiac arrest and create an opportunity to celebrate EMS success


By Cathryn St. Amand

Celebrating cardiac arrest survival in your agency and community is a wonderful opportunity to allow cardiac arrest survivors and their families to meet and thank their EMS and hospital caregivers. Celebrations also provide an opportunity for survivors to meet other survivors, promote awareness of sudden cardiac arrest in the community, and create a venue to celebrate successes in EMS.  

"Locally, we are honored and humbled by our participation in events that celebrate both our caregiver and our patients," said Kevin Anderson, AMR Spokane general manager. "Seeing how AMR Medicine is truly making a difference in people’s lives where it really matters."

Focus on the survivors first, the rescuers second

The best survivor celebrations focus on the survivors first and foremost, and the rescuers, both professional and bystander, second. At Spokane AMR, our celebrations have included families, hospital personnel, EMS personnel, 911 dispatchers, police officers, firefighters and bystanders.

We highlight survivor stories from the year, and have been able to hear from the survivor, family members, and even bystanders who initiated CPR. These stories are always poignant; for EMS personnel in attendance, they are a great reminder of why we do what we do.

As I was organizing a recent celebration, a survivor called three times to RSVP with more and more family members planning to attend. His cardiac arrest happened at a fitness center and an employee started CPR on him until EMS arrived. The employee was able to attend the celebration and meet the man and his family. Three AMR employees on his call were also able to attend. It is an amazing and heartwarming experience to be able to interact with people that are so joyful at their second chance at life.

10 steps to organize a survivor celebration in your community

These steps are important to organizing a successful celebration for survivors of sudden cardiac arrest in your community.

1. Admin support

Make sure that your supervisors are on board with the idea of a celebration. This will require a significant amount of time and resources that will be well worth the effort.

2. Get help

Form a survivor celebration committee with stakeholders such as interested survivors, their families, friends, hospital personnel, and business owners to help you plan your event. The more partners in this venture the better the product, and the more fun it will be along the way.

3. Co-brand with other agencies and events

Increasing cardiac arrest survival is a community effort. Branding and activities should include other first responder agencies, police, fire, hospital personal, city government, and local health departments. The more you involve, the more powerful your gathering.

4. Pick a date

Many survivor celebrations are held in conjunction with other events or holidays. For example, February, heart month, around Valentine’s Day; October is Cardiac Arrest Awareness month; EMS Week is in May. Any date is good if it works in your community.

5. Pick an accessible venue

A local hospital or a large business in your community may be able to donate the use of an auditorium or banquet room for the event. Make sure there is plenty of accessible parking. As you might expect survivors, and their immediate friends and family may be elderly or frail. Make it easy for them to find parking and to access your venue.

6. Make sure to include the receiving hospitals

Inform and invite your destination hospitals to participate and enlist their support. Sometimes they may offer to organize media coverage and print brochures. Contact them early as they may require lots of lead time.

7. Identify and invite survivors to attend

Throughout the year identify and keep in contact with survivors. To find cardiac arrest survivors, consider a local news advertisement, responding to thank you notes from EMS patients, and ask hospitals to send event information with any post-discharge communication. Sometimes, survivors know other survivors. Let them know they can invite those survivors or if they should send them to you. Remember the importance of following privacy guidelines as you seek out survivors.

One to two months before your event, send out invitations with requests for RSVP. As needed, follow invitations with a phone call. You may need to make multiple attempts to include survivors.

8. Plan an event that honors survivors

The specifics of the event and venue will be determined by your needs, budget, and the type of celebration you want to hold. Events can range from a formal ceremony to a wine and cheese party to a sit down dinner with educational topics to an informal ice cream and cake social. As you plan the event, consider the need to possibly transport survivors and their spouses to the venue.

Keep speeches and presentations to a minimum. A single short keynote presentation works well for us. Consider asking a survivor, community leader, or a beloved community physician as speakers.

Other program elements might include an invocation or prayer, honor guard, and other survivors telling their story. You may not be able to hear from everyone so consider printing stories of other survivors as inserts in a program.

You may also wish to include giveaways or awards, like Survivor Coins, and decorations. Hospitals and other agencies are welcome to give away items, even if branded.

9. Media coverage of the event

Arrange for a photographer for group and candid photos. Announce the event a week before and the day of to your list of local media contacts. Know ahead of time which survivors and family members are willing to talk to the media and designate an agency PIO to speak about the event to attending media.

10. Celebrate!

The hard work is done. Follow the plan to honor and celebrate survivors. Consider recognizing all the attending survivors individually, including, if possible their rescuers. Make sure to capture photos of survivors, as well as survivors with bystanders and rescuers. Both formal and informal photos are great for posting to social networks and sharing with local news media. Allow time for survivors to mingle with rescuers. Try to have at least one rescuer - a bystander or EMS provider - attending for each survivor so they have someone to thank personally.

Finally, your work is not done. The celebration is the best time to recruit volunteers for next year's celebration. Share information on local survivor groups, activities, counseling, and how to participate in the planning and delivery for the next event.

About the Author

Cathryn St. Amand is the Clinical and Education Specialist for American Medical Response in Spokane Washington, where she has been a paramedic for 18 years. In the last 4 years she has been privileged to work with cardiac arrest survivors and their families through yearly Survivor Celebrations and monthly support meetings. For more information she can be reached at Cathryn.St.Amand@amr.net.

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