Preventing and Responding to Sudden Cardiac Arrest

A Heart, a Drive, a Difference. Parents Turn Heart-Breaking Loss into Prevention Campaign
Posted on 08/14/2019
Tanya Cruz-Flores speaks to students at EastLake Elementary School.

Tanya Cruz-Flores is driven by a wrenching desire. “I don’t want any parent to go through what I went through,” she says.

She has lived through a parent’s worst nightmare—coming home to find her son, Cristian Acosta-Flores, dead from an undiagnosed enlarged heart. Cristian’s life was cut tragically short on September 1, 2014, one day shy of his 19th birthday.

Tanya and her husband Memo have turned their grief into action by launching Cristian’s Big Heart, an organization dedicated to raising awareness of youth heart ailments while also raising funds for prevention measures such as heart screenings for teens and the purchase of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) for local schools.Memo and Tanya Cruz-Flores (together far left) commemorate the purchase of replaced AEDs for local schools.

The couple were on hand recently for a special assembly at EastLake Elementary. Guided by experts from San Diego Project Heartbeat, fifth-grade students demonstrated how to conduct hands-only Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and use the life-saving AEDs. As students learned, AEDs are the only way to restart a heart in cardiac arrest, and the latest devices are simple to use.

The students learned to serve as the bridge until emergency responders arrive when someone suffers a heart attack. Sudden cardiac arrest is a leading “silent killer” of our nation’s youth. A multi-faceted partnership is determined to combat such deaths in the South County. Schools in the Chula Vista Elementary School District and the Sweetwater Union High School District are receiving dozens of replacement AED units for use at their respective schools. Support for these life-saving devices came from the County of San Diego’s Neighborhood Reinvestment Program at the recommendation of County Supervisor Greg Cox. Additional AEDs were donated by the Eric Paredes Save-A-Life Foundation, and Cristian’s Big Heart organization.

Principal Eric Banatao, Ed.D., (right) encourages all students and staff to be prepared to save a life.“Learning how to do CPR and use an AED—our students are learning how to be heroes,” said Principal Eric Banatao, Ed.D. “They are all going to learn how to be superheroes so that in the event of an emergency, they know how to react, how to respond, and, ultimately, how to save a life.”

The “CPR Anytime” kits that EastLake is providing to students thanks to the generosity of the American Heart Association are important for them to be able to practice, to develop muscle memory, and familiarity, Dr. Banatao added.

CVESD Board President Laurie K. Humphrey said everyone needs to be prepared if and when a loved one experiences distress or cardiac arrest.

“These kinds of incidents can occur anywhere—at school, at home, at the pool, at a restaurant,” she said. “Our students will be empowered to help their families, to help in our community, should an incident occur.”

Cristian grew up in the community, attending CVESD elementary schools, and SUHSD middle and high schools. He had deep family ties to the education community. His grandfather is a former CVESD Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, his grandmother is a retired CVESD Principal, and his aunt is Superintendent in SUHSD.

After his death, his family launched a 5K at Rohr Park, and initially funded youth scholarships. “We didn’t want to stop there,” Tanya said. “I want to honor his life. I want to keep a legacy going. I don’t want any other parent to open the door and find their child passed away.”

Cristian’s Big Heart organization has grown to champion heart screenings along with the Eric Paredes Save-A-Life Foundation—also founded by parents of a teen who died unexpectedly from an undiagnosed heart condition. In addition to heart screenings, the two organizations teamed with Project Heartbeat to ensure the devices are in place at all area schools.

They are already having an impact. Tanya said she was “blown away” by the students’ CPR and AED demonstrations. The EastLake event prompted her to say, “Oh my gosh, this is so personally important. This is my District, my school, our District, our schools. …and all my friends’ kids go here or have gone through here. If other parents saw these demonstrations, they would know how important it is.”

The life that a student helps to save someday could be your own.

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