Minutes and seconds are crucial when a heart stops. A life-saving initiative embraced by multiple West Feliciana Parish agencies will arm potential heroes and help them leverage those minutes in the event of a sudden cardiac arrest.

West Feliciana Hospital and local EMS officials have unveiled Jumpstart a Heart, a program that meshes strategically placed automatic external defibrillators and a league of West Feliciana residents connected to the national PulsePoint app system.

Hospital CEO Lee Chastant said the program is the first of its kind in the state and was the brainchild of EMS Director Chris Fitzgerald, who accepted the challenge of developing a program for a rural parish.

“It's not in everybody's budget, but I think we did a pretty good job,” Fitzgerald said. “It's easier in an urban an area to justify a program like this, but in a rural area where there's not a whole lot of cardiac arrests all the time, financially, seems like it wouldn't make sense. But, if you save one life, and you’ve done something.”

Fitzgerald’s research led him to a small Arkansas community using the PulsePoint smartphone app to alert community participants of cardiac arrests, Chastant said.

“Once we got that piece in place, we knew we could make this happen,” Chastant said. “It's taken us a while due to COVID delays. It's been a long process but well worth it.”

Sudden cardiac arrest kills nearly 1,000 Americans a day. When victims do not receive CPR until professional help arrives, the survival rate is only 11 percent. Cardiac arrest, while often associated with the elderly, can strike at any age. An example offered during the presentation detailed how quick action and an AED was credited with saving the life of a West Feliciana middle school child.

The hospital is registering all AEDs in the parish and purchasing additional units to place defibrillators in more places. Residents are encouraged to download a 911-connected PulsePoint Respond App, which will provide access to a map showing the locations of all AEDs across the community in an emergency. The app is available to both iPhone and Android users.

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The PulsePoint app empowers residents and those trained in CPR can volunteer to become a Citizen Responder. The app will notify volunteers if they are near a cardiac emergency and direct them to the victim’s location so they can administer help prior to the emergency responders’ arrival.

The Jumpstart a Heart program has as partners West Feliciana Hospital, West Feliciana Parish Sheriff’s Department, West Feliciana Parish Fire Department, West Feliciana Parish Government and the Town of St. Francisville.

Leaders and community representatives lending support to the initiative, in addition to Chastant and Fitzgerald, included Melvin Harvey, Bank of St. Francisville vice president; Hollis Milton, West Feliciana Schools superintendent; Sheriff Brian Spillman; and Parish President Kenny Harvard.

The West Feliciana rural landscape creates unique emergency preparation challenges, Fitzgerald said. “There's so many areas where there's maybe one or two people living there, so time for getting to that patient quickly and safely is crucial,” he said. “Also, when you think about the program itself, we are trying to place these out everywhere. Sometimes some of these remote areas don't even have a building, so we have to try to be creative with where we put the units.”

Fitzgerald’s department is relying on research to determine how to place the AEDs within five minutes from everywhere in the parish. “Even if it’s just one of two people in an area, they still pay taxes,” he said. “So, we want to serve everybody that we can get to and not just in the crowded areas.”

The EMS department has placed 12 units outside fire department buildings and in cabinets with signs on the covers to help them stand out. Existing and privately owned devices can be registered and become a part of the parish mapped locations. Groups interested in registering an AED can contact program coordinator Dawn McBeth at 225-635-2446 or McBethD@wfph.org.

To fund the program, the hospital applied for and received a $25,000 health care grant from a subsidiary of the Louisiana Hospital Association and additional support came from the hospital and community partners including the fire and sheriff’s departments. “Sheriff Spillman is also instrumental in helping us work with 911 and the fire department has allowed us to put the AEDs strategically in all their fire department locations,” Chastant said. “So, it's been important for us to do that.”