Muirlands Middle School earns top honor for heart safety in La Jolla

Muirlands Middle School has the admirable distinction of being the first public school in the state to receive the Heart Safe School Accreditation, thanks to the hard work and determination of five students who are also members of Girl Scout Troop 3803.

The accreditation ceremony took place Oct. 12 on the Muirlands campus at 1056 Nautilus St., with community members, school administrators, San Diego Unified Schools Superintendent Cindy Marten and dozens of students in attendance.

The Scout troop of five — Selma Hyytinen, Maggie Johnson, Natalie Saham, Allison Foerster and Amber Watt — has been together since kindergarten at Bird Rock Elementary School. Each Scout took a turn at the podium to address a specific aspect of their Silver Award project, which led to the momentous day. The Girl Scout Silver Award is the highest award a Cadette Scout can earn and is given to longtime Girl Scouts who take on a significant community improvement project of their choosing.

Hyytinen introduced the troop members and shared some startling statistics about Sudden Cardiac Arrest. She cited: "400,000 people die each year in the United States from cardiac arrest. 10,000 of these deaths are children. 10 people will die today in San Diego from cardiac arrest. Through CPR and AED training, many of these lives can be saved. We made it our goal to educate and train our community to ensure the safety of everyone here on campus at Muirlands."

Johnson then shared the story of why the troop took on this project. "About 5 years ago, my dad suffered a cardiac arrest at the height of an intense workout at a Bird Rock gym," she explained. "He was healthy and fit, but one day he collapsed. I remember my mom calling his name and rushing over to him.

"He received 12 minutes of CPR before paramedics arrived. There was no AED at the gym, so my father's chance of survival was very slim. Once the paramedics arrived, they were able to shock his heart back into rhythm. He was in coma for 4 days, but survived. He's here with us today."

From that point on, the troop's mission was clear. The girls themselves learned CPR training in fourth grade, then trained other Bird Rock elementary students and the entire fifth-grade class. Once they moved to Muirlands, they organized CPR and AED training for staff and teachers, as well as 600 students in the past two years through PE classes.

As Saham noted: "We ensured that from any point at Muirlands, you can reach an AED within 90 seconds and bring it back to the site of the emergency. We have two different AEDS on site at all times." And more than one staff member has been trained per every 50 students.

Foerster offered thanks to all organizations involved in the effort, including Girl Scouts San Diego, San Diego Project Heartbeat, Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome Foundation or SADS (which offered the accreditation), American Heart Association, and the office of County Supervisor Ron Roberts.

Troop leader Janey Hummell was offered a bouquet of flowers for her dedicated support, presented by her daughter, Selma, in a touching encounter. Troop member Watt introduced the guest speakers, including Girl Scouts San Diego CEO Carol Dedrich and Shana Contreiras from the American Heart Association.

SDUSD Superintendent Marten, also offered her praise: "This is what happens when great organizations come together to support the vision of leaders like you girls." Marten then shared her own personal connection to the troop's mission.

"My son — when he was 5 — almost lost his father to Sudden Cardiac Arrest. My husband, at a very young age, had a massive heart attack and survived. He needed quintuple bypass surgery at age 42. My interest and passion for heart health and how to keep people safe and healthy started on that day." She added that her husband survived for 17 years, thanks to the American Heart Association and the doctors at UC San Diego Medical Center.

Muirlands principal Geof Martin said he and his staff were already brainstorming how to expand awareness of the issue. "It's pretty amazing to be the first public school in California to be heart-safe accredited, and to know that so many of our students have the ability to make a difference. We're asking ourselves, 'How do we continue to do that work and keep our PE coaches involved and continue to get students to understand the importance of that?"

Martin also noted that this project was especially valuable because it was student-led. "If students are doing the work, there's a much more significant buy-in from the other students on campus."

With this first accreditation under its belt, SDUSD hopes to expand the training to more schools in the county, using Muirlands as the model.

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