Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month :: Project ADAM

Disclosure:: This post is sponsored by Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, who also provided all information and medical resources. We are proud to share this crucial information with Milwaukee area families.

children's hospital of wisconsin, project adam

While we will soon be enjoying all the fun and fantasy that Halloween brings, the month of October is also dedicated to highlighting a health issue where the dangers are all too real.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month seeks to bring attention to a condition that kills more than 350,000 people each year. That’s one death every two minutes, which is more than breast cancer, lung cancer, or AIDS.

One organization that will be getting the word out is Project ADAM, a national community outreach program that helps implement and support emergency response plans for when sudden cardiac arrest happens in schools. It started in 1999 after Adam Lemel, a 17-year-old Whitefish Bay high school student collapsed and died while playing basketball. Adam suffered sudden cardiac arrest – meaning his heart could not properly pump blood to his brain and other vital organs – but could have been saved if there had been access to an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).

Adam’s parents, Patty and Joe Lemel teamed with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin and the Herma Heart Center to create Project ADAM. The program has since expanded nationwide and recently recorded its 100th life saved.


Alli Thompson, Project ADAM administrator, recently answered some questions about sudden cardiac arrest and her organization’s mission to save more lives.

What are some of the main messages people should take from Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month?

Alli Thompson: It’s really a time to raise awareness that it can happen to anybody. We want people to know that you can be prepared, whether you’re in a school, a community, or in a home. We want people to be prepared with AEDs and trained staff. We also want people to know what it is and how it can happen. Sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart unexpectedly has an electrical issue causing it to not beat correctly. This is very different than a heart attack, which is more about plumbing and the way that the heart is pushing blood to and from the heart. So it’s another way for us to talk about what is a SCA versus a heart attack, and that a SCA can be treated immediately if a person is found unresponsive by activating the emergency response plan. That means calling 911, starting CPR, getting the AED, and getting that patient the quickest care possible.

How has awareness improved over the years?

AT: It’s comparable to the awareness that’s occurred around concussions. Now people know if there’s a suspected concussion that they need to seek medical care immediately. There are plans and protocols in place to address a concussion on-site so that our children and adults aren’t at risk. Sudden cardiac arrest is following a similar path in building that up, making sure people have a discussed and practiced plan. We don’t want it where people are just sticking an AED out there. There’s more to it than that. People might know the steps of CPR, but how are we going to put it all together to save somebody?

What is the significance of Project ADAM recently surpassing 100 lives saved?

AT: It’s just a wonderful time to pause and say wow. We can celebrate that 100 people – and those are just the ones we’ve heard about, there probably are more – who are here today after the death of Adam. When the family started this program with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, they never in their wildest dreams thought there would even be one life saved. The concept of AEDs in schools, the concept of putting plans in schools, it was all kind of crazy 16 years ago. And we’re hearing stories where people put these plans in place, especially with our 100th save. The school said, ‘Oh, it was just like a drill.’ That’s what our program was able to do, we educated and worked with the staff to develop a written plan. Then they practiced the plan throughout the year, similar to a fire drill, actually going through the motions. And it saved a young girl’s life.

Project AdamHow did Project ADAM get to where it is today?

AT: No. 1, our physicians who are involved with us help spread the message. Dr. Anoop Singh, our medical director, when he is out talking to physicians about finding a specialty or focusing on something other than medical care, the topic of Project ADAM comes up because it’s a way for a hospital to give back and work in the community and make meaningful change. Another way is just by word-of-mouth. The districts we’re partnered with know that Project ADAM is a credible program and resource for them. And then there’s just the lives saved. We are starting to get some advocates in youth who are willing to speak out about their own sudden cardiac arrest, and that becomes a powerful voice for us.

What are some of the biggest challenges Project ADAM faces in getting more schools involved?

AT: Capacity is one of the things. Our programs can only do so much with limited resources and staff, so really latching onto the hospital system and all the support that is provided allows us to make a bigger awareness and get the education out there. I think sometimes there’s also a hesitancy from schools just because it’s a big burden to take on for the whole school system – AED and CPR efforts and finding someone to coordinate everything. Another huge barrier is that districts are still having a hard time coming up with the budget for AED equipment. It’s very expensive, there’s maintenance involved, and staff need to be trained. In Wisconsin, we’ve been able to offset the cost by some training grants we’ve been able to give to schools, so we’re always trying to find ways to help with that.

Talk a little about the training that’s involved for schools.

AT: It depends on the school and district, but we recommend that a team is trained – about 10 percent of staff – so that usually ends up being five to 10 designated people who are willing to respond in the event of a cardiac emergency. We’ll counsel schools to develop a code. For instance, in hospitals you can have a code blue, so that everyone knows that the victim is not responsive, and that we need to start CPR and get the AED. We advocate for all staff to at least have awareness of where the AED is, what the plan is, who the team is.

Project ADAM is focused on saving children’s lives, but how can other groups benefit?

AT: Oftentimes, it is going to be an adult who suffers cardiac arrest, or a grandparent or a visitor. We owe everybody that best chance of survival. That means having the training, the plan, and the practice. That is what’s going to save somebody. There’s no way that EMS – even with the best response time, two to four minutes – can make it there in time in certain situations. We need to get that AED on as soon as possible. Every minute that we delay, the chance of survival goes down 10 percent. Even in Adam’s case, EMS was across the street, so that could’ve been the quickest response ever, but still wasn’t able to get there in time.

What does the future look like for Project ADAM?

AT: We’re expecting more growth, more affiliate programs at hospitals around the country. We’re also looking for continued growth of community partners that can help schools and maybe even going into athletic leagues – helping them develop plans, making sure they have equipment and getting the awareness out.

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