BRUNSWICK — Georgia school nurses launched a major campaign in February, which was American Heart Month, to educate teachers, staff and parents about the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease, as well as ways to lead a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Last month, school nurses across the state received electronic tool kits with handouts, bulletin-board postings and programs to increase the number of staff and parents who can recognize and respond to early warning signs and symptoms of stroke and heart attack. The materials were developed through a joint partnership of the Georgia Association of School Nurses’ (GASN) Cardiovascular Health Task Force, Georgia’s state Cardiovascular Health Program (CVH) and Healthy People 2020, a federal initiative that sets nationwide health improvement priorities.
Cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, is the No. 1 killer for both men and women nationwide and in Georgia. One often thinks of school nurses as serving students, but they also safeguard the health of teachers and staff, who comprise Georgia’s largest workforce and are predominantly women, GASN President Lisa Byrns said.
“Students learn best when they have healthy, focused teachers,” she said. “We are challenging school nurses around the state to take ownership of this dismal outcome and work together to turn it around.”
A key task-force goal is to combat a widely-held misconception that women are at lower risk of dying from heart disease than men, said Alison Ellison, task force chairperson and coordinator of Project S.A.V.E., a Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta program that assists schools in becoming heart-safe.
“Women seem to be less aware of their heart risk than men, and that lack of awareness sometimes even extends to their doctors,” Ellison said. “For women, the signs and symptoms of heart disease can be more subtle, so for all these reasons, it’s important for them to have the right information to advocate for themselves and know when to speak up and say, ‘Please check my heart.’”
The task force, which includes 24 nurses from across the state, encourages school nurses to include signs and symptoms of heart attacks and strokes in health fairs and other worksite wellness events. It also is collaborating with Project S.A.V.E. to provide regionally accessible training where nurses can get certified to lead CPR training courses for staff, students and the community.
Since Project S.A.V.E.’s founding in 2004, one-third of Georgia’s schools have qualified for recognition as Project S.A.V.E. heart-safe schools. Even more significantly, 28 people (12 students and 16 adults) at these schools are alive today because another staff member recognized they were having a sudden cardiac arrest, understood how to administer CPR, had an automated external defibrillator at the school and knew how to use it, Ellison said.
“You never know when you may be a witness to a heart attack, and if you’re the victim, you certainly would want someone around who knows what action to take to save your life,” she said.