Until a few years ago when she was diagnosed with a serious heart condition, local Girl Scout Sarah Johnson was blissfully unaware that if she were to physically push herself too hard, she could go into cardiac arrest.
Johnson has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition where the walls of her heart are too thick. She was 15 when she had to undergo open heart surgery for her condition.
“They had to go in and thin it down. They’re going to have to do it again, because I’m getting a little worse,” she said.
“If anything were to happen to me, I would just drop and would need an AED,” she said.
Now working on a Girl Scout Gold Award project, she tries to raise awareness at local churches of the need of an AED (automated external defibrillator), as cardiac attacks can come without warning.
As the name suggests, an automated external defibrillator is a portable electronic device that automatically diagnoses the life-threatening cardiac conditions and is able to treat them through defibrillation, the application of electricity which stops the arrhythmia, allowing the heart to reestablish an effective rhythm.
According to the American Heart Association, “survival rates of cardiac arrests that occur outside of hospitals nearly double when AED defibrillators are administered in addition to CPR.”
The device gives spoken directions and will only send a shock if one is needed.
“I am trying to get AEDs in churches,” Johnson said. “They aren’t government-owned buildings and are not required by law to have them.
“If they have one, I’m making sure they are keeping it up to date. And if they don’t have one, I let them know why it’s important.”
Johnson found that most churches around Manchester are small and find the cost prohibitive. The price of an AED kit, even with a discount, can be upwards of $1,000.
First Baptist Church, where Johnson attends, has two AEDs.
“You wouldn’t think that a kid would need an AED. I had no idea that I had this problem until I was 15 or so. I was on the dance team I did sports – I was very active.”
Johnson had to completely limit her activity after her diagnosis.
“If I exercise too much, I would just drop,” she said.
“When you go into cardiac arrest, your brain cells start dying immediately. The quicker you can get an AED in shock and get somebody back awake, it can save so much.”
Johnson has talked to over 30 churches in the county. The project requires 80 hours of service, so she will visit 15-17 more churches.
“The responses have been pretty good so far. A lot of the smaller churches don’t have the funds, but a lot of the big ones do,” she said.
Johnson takes along a questionnaire asking attendance data and if there is a gym or athletic programs. If they have an AED, she asks how it’s maintained and are there nurses in the church community that can use the device.
If the church doesn’t have an AED, Johnson shares information about the device, cost and purchasing programs and some of the life-saving benefits of having one.
The Girl Scout Gold Award (a rough equivalent of a Boy Scout Eagle Award) is presented to girls following their completion of a Take Action project that addresses a pressing community need.
Johnson has been a Girl Scout since kindergarten. She is in Troop 1319, lead by Dana Giltner. At the conclusion of the project she will make a presentation during an award ceremony.