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Calif. teen uses CPR to save woman on train

By Jennifer Shaw
The Contra Costa Times

ALAMO, Calif. — Beth Scroggs has no memory of her commute home on BART the afternoon of May 13.

“I’m pretty sure I was reading a library book, but I can’t tell you which one,” she recalls.

The 52-year-old Clayton woman’s heart was in good shape in terms of unblocked arteries and blood pressure. What failed her that afternoon was an electrical response to her heart from the brain. With no warning signs, she suddenly was slumped lifeless in her seat.

She would not know until a few days later after regaining consciousness at a local medical center that a 15-year-old Alamo girl had stepped in and started CPR. Another unnamed good Samaritan had assisted with subsequent breathing while Sara Broski kept pushing the base of her palm against Scroggs’ chest until paramedics arrived at the BART station in Walnut Creek.

“I didn’t see any dead relatives or lights, but clinically I was dead,” says Scroggs. “She saved me. For her to have the guts to step up to this is huge. It’s a miracle that I’m here.”

Scroggs, and those like her who are very involved in Scouting where CPR training is a key part of qualifying for the First Aid Merit Badge hope that Sara’s heroics will not be the exception, but the rule.

“I was working on adrenaline. I went into it without thinking. It was very fresh in my mind. I knew I could do it,” says Sara, noting the CPR training she had received in April as a prerequisite for her summer job as a camp counselor and lifeguard.

Sandi Pettus, whose son was in Troop 262 along with Scroggs’, heard about her friend’s cardiac arrest via a Facebook entry: “Please pray for my mom.”

The incident served to reinforce the Concord resident’s commitment to the work she’s done for 20 years as owner of CPR for Life. Pettus offers CPR, first aid and automated external defibrillator (AED) training for individuals and groups. Top on her agenda is to encourage installation of AEDs in offices and other public facilities.

Sara’s instinctual impulse to use her new skills to save a life coincided with the introduction of the HeartSafe Community Initiative launched by Contra Costa Health Services’ Emergency Medical Services division.

The hope, says Pam Dodson, prehospital care coordinator, is various county municipalities will apply and meet the criteria for earning the HeartSafe distinction.

“Sudden cardiac death is the leading cause of natural death in the U.S. with a survival rate of 6 percent based on if someone witnesses the event, recognizes the emergency, calls 911, starts CPR immediately and someone arrives quickly with a defibrillator,” Dodson says.

There are 350,000 annual fatalities and Dodson notes the protocol, which includes advanced life support administered by paramedics, is “a chain of survival.”

Local cities can earn the HeartSafe classification by amassing “heartbeats,” which are tallied based on having such programs in place as activities promoting heart health; CPR training; ordinances requiring offices to have AEDs in place; and an organization willing to take the helm of promoting the elements.

“We try to make it as reasonable as we can, but at the same time we want it to mean something,” Dodson says.

Clayton City Manager Gary Napper is enthused and will broach the idea with the City Council in the coming weeks.

“It works well with our lifestyle and enhancing the well-being of our citizens,” he says, calling the initiative a “fitting glove” for the community and noting that an AED is already in place at the library.

William Howard, a Chico State sophomore who is still involved with Boy Scout Troop 262 and has gone through several trainings over the years, keeps his CPR certification card on hand.

“I feel very confident that if something were to happen, I could step in and help,” he says. “The thing is with CPR you don’t expect you’re going to need to use it "... It’s made me think more about what I could do to help people.”

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