Lafayette’s “Be a Heart Starter!” event has trained nearly 16,000 Acadiana residents in CPR over the past 13 years, knowledge that has likely driven up the survival rate of local heart attack victims.

The CPR Army — area residents trained in CPR — is expected to expand this year at the 14th annual “Be a Heart Starter!” event Saturday at the Cajundome.

Trainers will instruct attendees on how to administer CPR on adults, children and infants and demonstrate how to use automated external defibrillators, portable devices that check heart rhythm and can send an electric shock to restore normal rhythm.

In addition to the training, people who credit their survival to bystander CPR — people trained in CPR who happen to be near someone experiencing cardiac arrest — will tell their stories at the beginning of the event.

Beau Williford, 64, a speaker at Saturday’s event, said he knows the importance of CPR training all too well.

In October, Williford had a heart attack at his home. His son, the only other person home at the time, called 911 and was given instructions over the phone on how to perform CPR until the ambulance arrived.

“I flatlined twice, and they were able to bring me back and took me to the hospital. It’s an absolute miracle,” said Williford, who is head coach of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s boxing club.

He said bystander CPR helped save his life, but he also credits his survival to Dr. Charles Wyatt, a cardiovascular surgeon at The Regional Medical Center of Acadiana who was on call the night he had his heart attack.

Wyatt, the founder and medical director of “Be a Heart Starter!”, said the cardiac arrest survival rate was about 1 percent when he moved to Lafayette more than 14 years ago.

Although the city had great hospitals and paramedics, Wyatt said, almost nobody knew bystander CPR at the time.

“We first started a task force to deploy automated defibrillators,” he said. “There was not a single automated defibrillator in Lafayette.”

Wyatt then set out to train people around Acadiana in bystander CPR.

“Let’s train the masses — that is the thought process behind the ‘Be a Heart Starter!’ event,” he said. “Our community as a whole is trying to make sure there are no missing links in the chain of survival.”

Once sudden cardiac arrest occurs, Wyatt said, four links are needed in the chain of survival: calling 911 as soon as possible, bystander CPR, early defibrillation and advanced medical care.

“For every one minute of no circulation, you have a 10 percent chance less of survival,” he said.

Lafayette’s “Be a Heart Starter!” event is sponsored by several hospitals and businesses in the area, Wyatt said, and it has even received national attention.

In 2007, the American Heart Association recognized the event as the largest single-site, single-day training of bystander CPR in the U.S.

Two training sessions will be held Saturday at the Cajundome. The first will be from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., and the second from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

The “Be a Heart Starter!” event is free, but advance registration is requested by going online to or by calling (877) 242-4277.