La PORTE — La Porte has become the first city in Indiana to be designated a HEARTSafe Community.

“We are here to celebrate the city of La Porte as a HEARTSafe community,” said La Porte Fire Chief Andy Snyder during an announcement of the designation on Tuesday at the Health Foundation of La Porte (HFL).

“We’re not stopping. We’re excited. This is an exciting day for us … our goal is to make La Porte County the first county wide HEARTSafe community. So, that’s our next step,” he added.

To become HEARTSafe, according to the HFL, a community must fulfill 13 criteria.

“A heart safe program is a set of criteria … designated to improve outcomes of sudden cardiac arrest emergencies through a specific set of training, preparation and response,” said HFL CEO Maria Fruth.

“It’s a designation that recognizes the community’s efforts to prepare citizens to recognize when someone suffers a sudden cardiac arrest and how to respond,” she added.

The criteria, according to the HFL, includes establishing a lead organization, training 15 percent of the community each year, developing strategies to improve awareness and bystander intervention and placing automated external defibrillators (AEDs) that can be quickly accessed.

La Porte was granted this designation through the Citizen CPR Foundation, which is a national organization.

“You have to have 15 percent of the entire population of La Porte [know] CPR,” Snyder said.

“When we actually did research on it, we found that we had over 5,000 people in the city of La Porte that were CPR certified,” he added.

The La Porte Fire Department were not the only participants that helped the HFL obtain the HEARTSafe Community for La Porte by fulfilling the 13 criteria.

Assisting the city in meeting the criteria were the city of La Porte Fire Department, La Porte County E-911, La Porte County EMS, La Porte County Fire Chief Association, Northwest Health-La Porte, Play for Jake Foundation and former HFL board member Jane Nelson.

The idea for La Porte to apply and become a HEARTSafe Community, according to Fruth, came as a recommendation from Pierce Szubelak, a representative from the medical company Stryker that provides La Porte County EMS with their equipment.

“Thank you to you guys for making this such a big point throughout your community, because obviously this is the type of disease that affects everyone, and so to see a community come together and work together to be able to have this safety throughout your community is just really, really cool,” Szubelak said when discussing the new AEDs that La Porte recently received.

The new AED devices that Styker has supplied allow the user to follow voice commands and picture diagrams, and the device provides the beat necessary to perform CPR.

The HFL also presented 17 AED grant recipients with their new equipment on Tuesday in the form of 41 AEDs, 37 AED cabinets, and the accompanying signage.

“You know, for 2024, $97,117 [was] invested by the Health Foundation to benefit so many of you,” Fruth said.

Grant recipients include American Legion Skwiat Post 451, the La Porte Fire Department, the La Porte Park and Recreation Department, Discover & Explore Montessori Preschool, La Porte County Park Department, Long Beach Volunteer Fire Department, Michiana Humane Society, Michigan City Area Schools, MSD of New Durham Township, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, The Pax Center, The Salvation Army of Michigan City, Save the Dunes, The SHARE Foundation, Trinity Episcopal Church, VFW Dunes Relief Post 2536 and VFW 1130.

“Congratulations to all of you who have come today to receive your AED, and it’s a fantastic outreach. You know, it’s wonderful to see so many community members interested in this technology and enhancing their capacity to save lives out there,” said HFL board member Dr. Gary Wheeland.

“Why are all of these things important? Because in La Porte, just as in the United States, heart disease remains the number one killer of Americans,” he added.

According to Wheeland, 695,000 people a year die from heart disease. He also pointed out that age is not a factor when involving sudden cardiac death by stating that two out of every 10 sudden cardiac deaths occur in individuals under the age of 65.

“It’s the leading non traumatic cause of death in our young athletes,” Wheeland said.

La Porte experienced this tragedy in 2013 when high school athlete Jake West died of sudden cardiac arrest.

La Porte Mayor Tom Dermody spoke about how Jake’s mother, Julie West, turned the tragedy of losing her son into saving lives.

“We talked about making a difference in people’s lives,” Dermody said.

“Not only in the city of La Porte, but statewide and going downstate, working with the legislature and making sure everybody across our fine state knows all the great opportunities there are to save lives. Jake’s Law,” he added.

Jake’s Law, Indiana Senate Bill 369, ensures that all athletic facilities always have a working AED present.
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