Just outside the Twin Cities in Bloomington, Minnesota, the Mall of America (MOA) attracts over 40 million visitors each year. Families, vacationers and locals alike visit every year to enjoy window shopping without a care in the world.
This sense of security is enabled by a superior security and safety department devoted to ensuring protecting the public. It’s not always a petty crime or lost child that comes over the department’s radio. There are times where America’s number one killer, sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), challenges the team.
In early 2000, in consideration of over 40 million visitors every year, the Mall of America had the foresight to safeguard its guests by implementing an automated external defibrillator (AED) program. Mall of America Security Captain Will Bernhelm values the superior performance of his team and the AED through the training of every officer and maintenance of every AED.
Captain Bernhelm explains how he oversees the program: “Every Mall of America Officer is trained and certified in basic first-aid, CPR and AED operation through the American Heart Association. Training includes classroom training, written tests, skills evaluation and scenarios. In addition to that, officers are given scenario training throughout the year and re-certified in these skills annually. The AEDs themselves are checked every day to ensure they’re in proper working order.”
So what happens when there is a sudden cardiac arrest in the largest mall in America?
Through the stewardship of this safety program, the Mall of America is capable of ensuring the best possible outcome, even in the times where an AED is deployed. Mall Officer Lt. Scott Buegler recounts a radio call received April 2, 2010. “Dispatch put out a call for an unresponsive female outside Forever 21 . . . I’m not sure if it was how the call was put on the radio by our dispatchers; perhaps the tone of voice was slightly different than normal . . . But something inside me said this call was different, and for some reason I felt I needed to respond in addition to the other officers that were dispatched.”
Radio calls about unresponsive visitors at the Mall of America usually refer to fainting episodes or other non-life threatening situations. Another MOA officer, Todd Bohrer, noted these types of calls to be common, but not necessarily a call that warrants every officer to “jump” in response. That day, several officers at Mall of America did just that.
Jamie LaLonde, eighteen at the time, was that day’s unresponsive female. Her shift at Mall of America’s Forever 21 had only just started, but right away Jamie felt out of sorts. She spoke to her manager and asked to take an early break to relieve herself.
“While on my way to the break room, a place where I would have been completely alone, I collapsed and started having what looked like a seizure.”
Recalling the story, Jamie notes with her coworkers not having formal training, “None of my co-workers knew what to do in that situation . . . and no one touched me for several minutes.”
Lt. Scott Buegler and Bloomington Police Officer Josh Seifert received the call and became the first on scene. After Officer Seifert was unable to find Jamie’s pulse, Lt. Buegler called out on the radio for an AED. The two immediately opened Jamie’s airway and began CPR. As additional officers and resources poured in, chest compressions and rescue breaths sustained Jamie until two shocks from an AED re-established a weak pulse. Shortly after, the ambulance arrived and even the paramedics expressed shock over the young girl’s event.
It was a miraculous rescue. Jamie shares, “The EMTs took me to the hospital where I was placed in a medically induced coma before being transferred to another hospital.” Once there, Jamie was sent through numerous tests with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator as the ultimate course of action. “I have to admit, I did a lot of Googling because I did not know the difference between a heart attack and a sudden cardiac arrest. I didn’t know it could happen to anyone of any age.”
Today, Jamie continues to call for public awareness by volunteering with the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation and the American Heart Association, with the goal of seeing heightened awareness and education.
“I feel like more people need to be taught how to identify what’s going on and what to do, especially young teens. I thank God for my rescue. If everyone was lucky enough to have educated bystanders or medically trained professionals around, the survival rate could be much higher.”
This was a sentiment shared by all those involved in Jamie’s rescue including the staff at the Mall of America. In the years after the event, the business has maintained its superior safety and AED program. Captain Bernhelm shares “[Jamie’s story] has reinforced our program and verified that we’re teaching the right things and putting in the necessary training time to be successful. We have also added four AEDs within the last three years, making them more available to officers throughout the mall, improving our response time.” Alongside their addition of new AED units, Captain Bernhelm maintains the Mall’s training standards for officer training.
Lt. Scott Buegler encourages others to see the impact and simplicity of owning and maintaining an AED, “The AED program at Mall of America continues to grow in size, in part because of success stories like this. With the advancement of technology, AEDs are so simple to use. It is the AED that determines if the victim is in need of being shocked, not the rescuer. Most AEDs will now talk/prompt you through the entire operation process, including how to perform CPR. In my opinion, there really isn’t any valid reason not to see an AED in any public facility.”
Each year approximately 325,000 people of all ages will experience an out-of-hospital SCA, and 9 out of 10 victims will die. Intervention in the form of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and an AED increase the rate of SCA survival by restarting the survivor’s heartbeat.
The Mall of America crafted its own CPR and AED program with great success. For those looking for more information about your own CPR/AED readiness plan and the ability to save a life, call at 800-544-0048 or click here for more information.