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Giving hearts save lives

By Jeff Clemetson | Editor

Project Heartbeat expands through generous donors

Don Teemsma was attending the San Diego Fire Rescue Foundation’s service awards luncheon when he had what he describes as a “moment of impact.”

A video presentation for the Ray & Joan Kroc Center Civilian Lifesaving Citation showed Omar Daniel using an automated external defibrillator (AED) machine to revive La Mesa resident Jorge Chincilla, who had collapsed while running on a treadmill at a fitness center.

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Ideal Plumbing Heating Air & Electrical CEO Don Teemsma holds an AED machine and Project Heartbeat director Maureen O’Connor holds a mannequin prior to an AED training at Mt. Helix Park. (Photo by Jeff Clemetson)

“And there he was with his wife having lunch with us like it never happened,” Teemsma said. “So I thought, ‘You know, if there’s a device like this that can save a life, why don’t we have one in our office?’”

Teemsma, who is CEO of Ideal Plumbing Heating Air & Electrical and is also on the board of the San Diego Fire Rescue Foundation, contacted Maureen O’Connor, director of Project Heartbeat.

Project Heartbeat started in 2001 with the “purpose of increasing survival rates from cardiac arrest here in our region,” O’Connor said.

The initial program for the city of San Diego was to put AEDs in every city building. Soon after, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors adopted it as a countywide program and after that, it was expanded to include access to private entities.

“Our mission for the program has always been to make AEDs as accessible as fire extinguishers because I guarantee you that you’re going to end up using an AED much more often than you ever will a fire extinguisher,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor is a fierce advocate for the program she directs. She lost a niece to sudden cardiac arrest four years ago and is eager to share stories of people who experience the loss of a loved one and turn that loss into helping fulfill Project Heartbeat’s mission — like the story of the woman from Del Cerro who lost her husband to cardiac arrest at their daughter’s wedding and became an advocate who has raised money to place several AEDs throughout the county.

“The first one she placed was at Lake Murray Tennis Club and that AED ended up saving the life of the medical director at SeaWorld San Diego, Dr. Ken Anderson, who started donating AEDs himself,” O’Connor said.

Another AED, of the handful she donated, went to The Old Globe theater and that one saved two additional lives.

Stories of AEDs saving lives is one of the reasons for the program’s success.

“To date, we’ve helped to place over 9,000 AEDs throughout the county,” O’Connor said. “As of last Saturday, we’ve had our 163rd life saved, just through our program participants, the programs we’ve set up and managed.”

Getting an AED through Project Heartbeat is simple. A unit costs between $1,000 and $2,000, depending on features. Project Heartbeat facilitates the purchase of the AED and helps with the state-mandated maintenance of the device.

“We wanted to be able to offer every element that you could think of to establish a successful public access defibrillation program,” O’Connor said.

Another element of success is training.

“Part of our program management services is providing free in-service training to all our program participants with hands-on training using mannequins and educating on the simple use of the AED,” O’Connor said, adding that it is an easy operation. “AED machines are foolproof. You cannot purposely shock someone unless they are in an actual cardiac arrest rhythm — the machine overrides the human user.”

In addition to the training on the AED machine, participants learn how to identify signs of cardiac arrest and how to use CPR, which increases the number of people in the public who know lifesaving techniques — even if there is no AED machine nearby.

At Ideal Plumbing Heating Air & Electrical, Teemsma recently had an AED installed and his entire staff trained through Project Heartbeat.

“The issue of having one nearby is that every second counts because within eight minutes you are pretty much brain dead if you don’t get oxygen to the brain and heart,” he said.

In addition to having one put in at Ideal, Teemsma also donated an AED to Mt. Helix Park in La Mesa where he is a member of the Mt. Helix Association.

“We have a lot of visitors, a lot of events, there’s people in the park and they’re up there exercising and moving around and they could have an event and there’s a possibility this could come in handy for someone,” he said, adding that he will likely donate more AEDs in the near future.

“We’re looking for two more places in our community for now, maybe we’ll do more later, that would benefit — like a Little League field or a church or someplace that has a lot of people and there’s public there.”

For more information on Project Heartbeat, visit

— Reach Jeff Clemetson at

Source: La Mesa Currier

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