Bird Rock Council hears tale of cardiac arrest, need for defibrillators

By Ashley Mackin

Bird Rock Elementary and Muirlands Middle School parent Christine Johnson is on a mission. After a very personal encounter with sudden cardiac arrest, she came before the Feb. 4 Bird Rock Community Council (BRCC) meeting, to explain the importance of the life-saving Automatic External Defibrillator (AED), and why these devices should be readily available throughout the community.

“The day after Thanksgiving (2013) our whole family was exercising in Bird Rock,” she said. “It was pretty surprising when (my husband Tom) suddenly collapsed in the height of a workout. But we were able to recognize what was happening and called 911 fairly quickly.”

Christine is a physician, so she had CPR training, which she performed on her husband for about 10 minutes until the paramedics arrived with an AED.

Christine Johnson retells the emotional story of her husband Tom’s (standing with her) sudden cardiac arrest.

In the meantime, she sent family members running across La Jolla Boulevard into local businesses, looking for a defibrillator. “There was not a single one to be found,” she told the council.

From that moment on, the Johnsons wanted to get involved in community heart health, and found Project Heartbeat. Under the auspices of San Diego Emergency Medical Services, Project Heartbeat’s goal is to increase AED awareness and help organizations procure them.

“There is a California law that states any physical fitness facility — including yoga studios and other traditional gyms — are mandated to have an AED,” Christine explained. “But I’m hoping through the BRCC, we can encourage many other businesses within our community to procure an AED and have the training for employees, and make sure it’s visible so those walking by know it’s there.”

Having a defibrillator available is crucial during a cardiac arrest, when time is of the essence, Christine said. If somebody gets an AED shock delivered within two minutes of the event, the survival rate is 70 percent. For each minute after that, the survival rate goes down 10 percent. Although Christine performed CPR on her husband, she said of the episode, “It’s a miracle he is standing here today and that he survived.”

Sharpe Fitness in Bird Rock now has an AED and all the trainers know how to use it. Owner Brandi Sharpe said she wished she had one the day of Tom Johnson’s cardiac arrest.

“I’ve been a certified personal trainer for 20 years and I always thought, ‘I don’t need that machine, that’s not going to happen on my watch,’ ” she said. “If I had that machine, helping Tom would have been so simple. So now there is a machine in my gym.”
She added that it is available to anyone in the community. “If you need it, you get it,” she said. “Break down the door if you need to. You are welcome to it.”

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Maureen O’Connor was also at the meeting to emphasize the value of knowing how to use a defibrillator. “It’s very important that we get society — from very young 3-year-olds to 103-year-olds — to recognize cardiac arrest and know what to do if they see it,” she said. “AEDs are very simple to use.”

EMT Maureen O’Connor said there’s training available on how to use a defibrillator.

Christine said Bird Rock Elementary School’s AED is en route and should arrive any day. She said she hopes middle and high schools in the San Diego Unified School District will soon have them on hand, as well.

O’Connor said Project Heartbeat offers grant assistance for nonprofits to have the machines placed on site. CPR training is also available. Each machine costs $1,300-$1,500. When the project started in 2001, the average cost was $4,000. More information at

In other BRCC news

■ Trash services restored: The City of San Diego answered BRCC’s request, after months of petitioning, to install concrete trash cans at the overlooks at Forward Street, Midway Street and Bird Rock Avenue. BRCC president Jacqueline Bell said concrete trash cans were recently placed at those ocean-viewing spots and frequent pickup restored.
In 2009, the city cut trash pickup services at lookout points that do not have beach access. As a temporary measure, residents placed plastic trash cans at those sites that were privately emptied.
However, the lightweight receptacles often tipped over, or were filled faster than they could be emptied, and because of the lightweight lid, birds would often pull food and trash out.

The city has installed a concrete trash can at the Forward Street overlook and it has reduced the amount of littering in that area. Photos by Ashley Mackin

■ Park improvements coming: By this time next year, if not sooner, the city will begin a park improvement project for La Jolla Hermosa Park, aka Rock Park. Starting from the north end of Camino de la Costa at Chelsea Avenue, existing curb ramps will be replaced to become ADA-compliant.

South of that, the dirt path will be renovated to include a new sidewalk that will connect to the existing sidewalk about 200 feet away. A curb inlet and concrete pad for a bench (so a wheelchair can pull up and be right next to the bench) will also be installed.
The bench area will be raised relative to the slope, and a wooden post-and-chain enclosure will be installed to match the surrounding fences. Construction should take four to six weeks.

— The BRCC meets 6 p.m. first Tuesdays at various Bird Rock businesses, details at

What’s the difference between a heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest?
■ A heart attack is essentially a plumbing issue; there is a blockage of one artery that carries oxygenated blood to the heart itself, and then that part of the heart becomes damaged and doesn’t function.
■ During sudden cardiac arrest, the heart stops beating or there is a problem with the electrical conduction, so it doesn’t beat like a regular heart, but fibrillates, and that motion is not effective at pushing blood flow to vital organs.

Related posts:

  1. Bird Rock Community Council hears residents’ concerns
  2. Bird Rock Council considers waste-water recycling, unleashed dog problem
  3. Bird Rock aglow with support for streetlights project
  4. La Jolla’s Bird Rock Community Council appoints new leadership
  5. Bird Rock Elementary gets $5,700 from Community Cookbook sales

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Posted by Ashley Mackin on Feb 13, 2014. Filed under Health & Science, La Jolla, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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