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Texting all superheroes (yes, there's an app for that)

PulsePoint phone app lets anyone with CPR training help save lives


COURTESY PHOTO: BRUCE MONTGOMERY - With the assistance of Hillsboro Fire Departments trained paramedics, students are taught hands-only CPR techniques at area schools.Thanks to a free smartphone app, you too can be a superhero.

Worldwide, PulsePoint users are exponentially increasing a person’s chances of surviving a cardiac arrest event, as well as being able to help out with a number of other emergency situations.

And as of Sept. 14, all of western Washington County’s fire districts were added to the list of PulsePoint-covered cities in the area — all connected to the county’s 911 dispatch center at the Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency (WCCCA) in Beaverton.

A life-saving tool touted as an enabler of citizen superheroes, PulsePoint sends a text-like notification to app users within one quarter mile of an emergency after dispatchers send out the initial request for response to public safety agencies (see sidebar).

In January 2013, Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue (TVF&R), which covers cities and unincorporated areas in eastern Washington County, paid the $10,750 license fee and became the first fire department in Oregon to integrate PulsePoint into its dispatch system. That fee now covers all other fire districts in the county.

“We want to make sure a victim of cardiac arrest has the greatest chance of survival,” said TVF&R Fire Chief Michael Duyck.

And those chances increase every time a CPR-trained individual downloads the app.

Nationally, victims of cardiac arrest have a survival rate of 50 percent when given bystander CPR, versus a survival rate of 8 percent or less without, according to the PulsePoint website.

In 2014, the Hillsboro Fire Department (HFD) responded to 59 cardiac arrest emergencies and saw a 15.9 percent survival rate.

This year, from Jan. 1 to July 31, HFD responded to 39 cardiac arrest emergencies with a survival rate of 30.8 percent during that period.

While each case is unique and the survival rate percentage can be chalked up to a wide array of circumstances, one aspect consistently holds true: “The sooner someone gets intervention, the better their chances of survival,” said HFD spokesman Bruce Montgomery. HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - Storm Smith, prevention and education manager for the Hillsboro Fire Department, introduces PulsePoint during a press conference at the Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency in Beaverton on Sept. 14.

In Hillsboro, the survival rate without bystander help is a bit higher thanks to better CPR techniques and other training tools implemented within the department, said HFD Prevention and Education Manager Storm Smith.

Yet with bystander CPR, “survival rates still skyrocket,” he added.

This bodes well for all 562,998 of Washington County’s residents now that the county’s western half has been brought under PulsePoint’s coverage umbrella.

And eventually, it may serve to benefit the whole of Oregon’s citizens considering the rapid adoption of PulsePoint’s technology coincides with Oregon’s Senate Bill 79, which — as of July 1 — mandates that all schools begin hands-only CPR and automated external defibrillator (AED) training to students in grades 7 through 12.

Bystander response

On Aug. 21, after a morning sales meeting at Dick’s MacKenzie Ford in Hillsboro, salesmen Bob Myers and Dan Clark stepped outside for a smoke.

“I’m going to regret this,” said Myers as he lit up his cigarette.

Seconds later, he bent at the knees and fell flat on his back, smacking his head loudly against the parking lot pavement.

Myers, 62, had gone into cardiac arrest.

“I tried to get a foot underneath him to brace his fall,” Clark said.

As he pulled out his phone and dialed 911, Clark began shouting for help and doing what he could to protect Myers’ head as he convulsed and repeatedly bounced the back of his skull against the hard ground.

Clark, who doesn’t know CPR, “didn’t have any confidence in that moment,” he said.

Hearing Clark’s desperate shouts for assistance, a handful of people from the dealership began running over to where Myers lay fallen.

From his office window overlooking the lot, Financial Services Manager Darwin Vietzke could see people running.

“I figured someone went down,” Vietzke said.

Reacting immediately, Vietzke got up and walked briskly to Myers.

“I couldn’t feel a heart beat and he wasn’t breathing,” Vietzke said.HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - At the PulsePoint press conference on Sept. 14, Dan Clark, a sales associate for Dicks MacKenzie Ford in Hillsboro, listens to the 9-1-1 call he made on Aug. 21 after his friend and co-worker Bob Myers suffered a cardiac arrest. Hearing his own panic-stricken voice for the first time since the ordeal was tough, Clark said. However, he believes hed be more prepared if something like that were to ever happen again.

With Clark on the phone with 911, Vietzke began CPR until police and paramedics arrived.

“I’d never seen anything like that in my life,” Clark said. “It was terrifying and amazing — watching Bob die, then Darwin brought him back to life.

“What he did was amazing ... he gave Bob a bonus round.”

Afterward, Myers was told that he did in fact die, and was dead for roughly three minutes.

And had it not been for Vietzke’s quick actions and calm response to an emergency situation, it could have been fatal.

But for Myers, aside from losing his memory for a few days and having some sore ribs, he was no worse for wear.

“I feel I need to pay back the community for helping me out — keeping me alive,” Myers said. “I want to pass it along.”

Though PulsePoint wasn’t used in this situation, Myers wants to advocate for the application based on its encouragement of bystander involvement, which is in large part what saved his life.

“We were talking with Bob after the incident,” Smith said. “He said that if it’d been five minutes later, no one would have seen him go down. He’d have just been lying there between the cars.

“You have to have that bystander response. Not everyone will be as lucky as Bob.”

‘The ability to save a life’

On June 10, 2015, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 79, which requires every school district in the state to teach students CPR and how to use an AED.

While the bill’s passage coincides serendipitously with state agencies’ growing use and implementation of PulsePoint, it stands to confound school districts across the state that now have to find funding and time to incorporate the requirement into their curriculums. HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE - Dicks Auto Group employees Darwin Vietzke, Bob Myers and Dan Clark pose together about one month after Myers suffered a cardiac arrest in the parking lot of the Tualatin Valley Highway dealership where they work. I owe these guys a steak and lobster dinner, Myers said. Get back to work, Vietzke responded.

But one Hillsboro high school was prepared for the challenge — even if it didn’t mean to be.

In November 2013, Liberty High School students Cheyanne Vandehey, Haily Kudulis and Aubrey Kraus worked alongside their senior advisor, Liberty health services and chemistry teacher Ramona Toth, to narrow the focus of their senior projects.

Collectively, they came up with a pay-it-forward style program that had the three girls learn CPR themselves and then pass along the training to 11th grade students, who in turn would pass the training along to 8th grade students.

“The Hillsboro fire chief came out to Liberty for a short meeting,” Toth said. “He wanted to know, are we in it for certification or skill development?

“The students decided, more than anything, they were in it for the ability to save a life.”

The following school year (2014-15), the program continued at Liberty, but with a few parameter changes, Toth said.

That year, the seniors in charge of the program, who were the juniors from the year before, were given more oversight of the project and were asked to be even more involved in the pass-down training, as well as being more communicative with the HFD.

But now, in its third year of implementation, Liberty must follow whatever directives the school district passes down in response to the legislation.

And although district officials haven’t solidified what those directives might be, Liberty is as prepped and ready as it can be.

“Because we’ve been doing it for two years, it’s almost routine,” Toth said. “But with the bill came funding challenges for how to provide and maintain CPR mannequins and defibrillator trainers.”

While Liberty and the school district will integrate AED training as of this year, the mannequins Toth had previously acquired for Liberty won’t be enough.

Of the 20 to 25 mannequins Liberty uses, the fire department provided some, the school district’s nurses and facilities groups provided others — and Toth herself provided the rest.

“We don’t have the luxury of resources,” she said.

Going forward, school districts across the state will be forced to surmount the challenge of affording the equipment necessary to properly train their students along with finding the time to actually implement the training.

For the time being, Hillsboro district officials will ask that each school work together.

During this first year, Century High School administrators will assist Brown, and Liberty will take on all the other schools, according to Toth.

Despite the challenges, it’s still a big step as only a small percentage of HSD students were CPR-trained before Liberty began its program.

And now, with the continued volunteer assistance of the HFD, even more prospective superheroes will be sent into the world.

“Our goal is certainly to be involved as much as we can,” Montgomery said. “Once the school district gets things arranged on their end, we’ll be ready anytime.”