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CPR Certification and Education: How One Woman's Heart Scare Led to Lifesaving Training for Thousand

Updated: May 31, 2023

Heather Baker's life was saved thanks to the quick actions of her colleagues who had recently received CPR certification training. Baker, a school administrator in Pecatonica, Illinois, suffered a sudden cardiac arrest in a meeting. Despite being an athlete and having no known preexisting conditions, Baker's heart stopped, leaving her unconscious on the floor.


Fortunately, Bill Faller, the school district superintendent who had recently undergone CPR certification training, recognized the situation and began chest compressions while the school psychologist retrieved an automated external defibrillator (AED). Middle school principal Tim King, a volunteer firefighter, then used the AED to try to restore Baker's heart rhythm. After multiple attempts, they were able to achieve a sustainable rhythm and get Baker to the hospital.


Doctors later placed Baker in a medically induced coma but were amazed at her survival, as only about 10% of people survive cardiac arrest outside of a hospital. Baker attributes her survival to CPR, and she has since become an advocate for CPR certification and education.


Baker has since trained nearly 3,000 people in CPR and is a co-chair of the policy committee of her local office of the American Heart Association. She is also a founding member of her local chapter of Project ADAM, which works to increase access to AEDs and CPR training in schools.


As an elementary school principal, Baker has ensured that her school trains staff and teachers in CPR and AEDs, educates students about heart health, has a cardiac response plan, and practices responding to emergencies. Her efforts have paid off, and her school became the third school in Illinois to receive a Heart Safe School designation through Project ADAM.


Heather Baker teaching a CPR class. (Photo courtesy of Heather Baker)

Baker's advocacy for CPR certification and education has taken on greater importance since becoming a mother of a newborn with a heart condition. Her son's condition was caught and diagnosed through a fetal echocardiogram, and doctors believe it is another extremely rare case, like Baker's own heart scare. Baker's determination to focus on what she can control has driven her to make schools and communities safer, knowing that she will be sending her son out into the world.


In addition to her advocacy work, Baker has also gotten an AED for her home and asks every business she goes into if they have an AED on hand. She understands the importance of being prepared for an emergency and hopes that her story will inspire others to get CPR certified and take action to make their communities safer.


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