Order of St John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller (Malta), US Virgin Islands, 06/08/13
OSJ Commandery of the West Indies Hospitaller Project – An AED In Every Public Building! Project Director, AED Fund: Cher Will
Getting out of your head and into your heart…..
Cher Will is a project director for the St Croix Foundation and the OSJ Commandery of the West Indies in the US Virgin Islands. Her goal is to put an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) in every public building on St Croix. A series of events led her to this aspiration. Her story is compelling…
“Eight years ago, I was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma. It changed my life. My husband, who is my rock, and I were devastated. Two years later, my little brother was killed in a car accident. Five years ago on Valentine’s Day, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had surgery five days later. They told me I had to have a second surgery because I did not have clear margins. We wanted the surgery done immediately, but they said they had to wait for me to heal a bit. I had an appointment to see the doctor on February 29th – a very significant day in my life.
I changed that appointment to an earlier date because I wanted to go home. The urge to go home to sit by the sea and listen to the waves overwhelmed me. They made me wait until February 26th before I could fly. By now I was feeling like the Bozo the Clown toy that you whack and it pops back for another whack. How many whacks can one Bozo take? I then was sure that my life had changed – and not for the better. What I didn’t know was what was waiting for me just three days after we got home.
Because a friend had died when the ambulance took 55 minutes to reach him, we bought an AED – it is an Automated External Defibrillator. It is used to shock a heart back to beating. It cannot shock someone who does not need to be shocked. We tossed the AED in the back of our Jeep and took an AED/CPR/First Aid class.
A series of events were about to unfold. On February 29th, Llewellyn Westerman collapsed on his boat at the yacht club. Fortunately, there were people doing CPR on him while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Someone there, who took the CPR class with us, remembered we had an AED and phoned our friend Kim Jones to phone us. Kim called me and said that Llewellyn had collapsed on his boat at the yacht club and to get our AED there.
My husband raced there, knowing that a person has only ten minutes from collapse to defibrillation or they will not survive. Every minute that passes decreases the chance of survival by ten percent. So, he waded into the water and handed our defibrillator to the heroes who were doing CPR while he was still in his dingy. They said they did not know how to use an AED. My husband told them to turn it on, and it would tell them exactly what to do.
One shock brought Llewellyn back to life. His friends are calling him Lazarus! The ambulance arrived 25 minutes after his collapse. It would have been too late for him to survive without defibrillation. It was his lucky day.
The following Monday, I phoned the fire department to see why they had not responded to the event. I was told that they had no equipment and no training so, why would they go. When I heard that, I thought, “SOMEONE SHOULD DO SOMETHING”! It was then that I realized that I was that someone. I got out of my head, and into my heart!
I started making phone calls. I met with Victor Browne, VI Fire Service Director and Steve Brow, St. Croix Fire Chief at that time. I told them that I wanted to get the firemen trained, and I was going to get them the equipment they needed. My life had officially changed. Instead of sitting around thinking about myself, I had a purpose in life! I had an important job to do! I didn’t have a clue how I would do it, but I have friends.
While I was off having my second surgery, Kim Jones made the arrangements for ALL St. Croix firefighters to be trained in AED/CPR/First Aid by the St. Croix Rescue Squad. By the time I returned from my next trip for six weeks of radiation, the training was finished. Now all I needed to do was raise a ton of money.
I contacted the St. Croix Foundation and after several meetings and writing a budget and a proposal of what I intended to do, I was approved. The AED Fund was established. They asked if I would consider going further than just the fire department. They wanted me to include the police department and other places.
Phase 1 was set up to fill the needs of the fire department. I was busy! I had things to do that didn’t have anything to do with cancer! I went to meetings and radio shows with my new friend, Dr. Michael Potts. I met some wonderful people along the way. My heart is full of this project. I can’t say that the dark side does not creep in every now and then, because cancer is a scary thing. But I will say that there is a new place to go when I get bad thoughts in my head and that is my heart.
The first ten defibrillators were delivered to the VI Fire Service in February 2009. The final three for Phase 1 were delivered in March 2009. At the presentation I found out that not just MY life had changed. I was told that the fire fighters are “stoked” about having the training and equipment. The fire department has used the defibrillators and is saving lives. They can go home to their families and know that they are safer with their new training that they so enthusiastically embraced. They can say to their children, “Guess what? I saved a life today!”
Dr. Kendall Griffith told me that the only difference between Allan Woods, his mentor who died of cardiac arrest at Canegata Park, and Llewellen is my defibrillator. Mr. Woods was his high school math teacher and a mentor for many successful Crucians. I promised him I would place a defibrillator at Canegata Park. I kept my promise.
Phase 2 was completed in September 2009. It placed seven more defibrillators. They are in Government House, Canegata Park, Cramer’s Park, Vincent Mason Pool and the three VIPD command stations. With what I collected from the community, I paid for training in AED/CPR/First Aid for eighteen police officers and six lifeguards. I bought 1000 AED/CPR wallet cards to reinforce the training for all officers on all islands. No defibrillator was delivered without proper training being in place.
When VIPD phoned me and asked for training for 40 officers, six more defibrillators and 7 oxygen sets for the police stations, Phase 3 was established. They also would like to put them in all of the police cars. Although I have not yet been able to provide them with the equipment, I have had the training done so that they can stabilize someone. I do not have enough money to do this. I need help from our community. Phase 3A started when the police chief asked me to get an AED and a really good quality first aid kit for their new special operations van. I got a donor with the chief’s help. I said they should have oxygen, as well.
The chief was really excited and because one of the items in the first aid kit was called “Blood Stop” he realized how important it was. He subsequently ordered trauma kits and training for all of his officers. Last October, he was shot and saved his own life with the tourniquet from the trauma kit. I was delighted – to say the least – to have taken a small part in his survival.
I helped the manufacturer of the AEDs that I have been buying do a photo shoot on St. Croix. This resulted in three more AEDs for St. Croix. Donations to the AED Fund completed all the accessories that I like to furnish with the AED and an AED for the St. Croix Rescue Squad.
I have encouraged churches, condos, homeowners associations, businesses and individuals to install defibrillators and receive training. I have been working with Senator Sammuel Sanes and his staff. New legislation has been passed. An AED Registry is now in place and it is named after Allan Woods. I also worked with Senator Sanes’ office to help identify all the known AEDs on St. Croix – at least 75 of them! They put all this information into the Crowdsav app for Smartphones.
In February, along with an officer from the St. Croix Rescue Squad, we used an AED trainer that I bought from the AED Fund and we gave hands-on training for 200 5th and 6th graders from schools across St. Croix on how to do Hands Only CPR and how to use an AED. I then donated the trainer to the St. Croix Rescue Squad so they can use the same trainer as the officers will use.
Last week, I learned that a prominent St. Croix athlete would furnish two more AEDs to our schools. This will total 27 donated by the AED Fund.
The VI Cardiac Center has opened since I started this project. If we can keep cardiac patients alive, they possibly can fix them.
Has all this been easy? Nope. Do I have a team of people helping me? Nope, just my wonderful husband who has supported me throughout. Have I encountered people who say that the government should be doing this? Sure. But I point out that SOMEONE has to do it if the government doesn’t. We cannot sit around and wait for SOMEONE to do what needs to be done. We have to get out of our heads and into our hearts.
You are probably wondering what you can do to help me. You can write a check to the AED Fund, get your friends together and have a fund-raiser, and get your own defibrillator and CPR training.
I need to buy AEDs for the police department. I need to put AEDs in all of our schools. Sudden Cardiac Arrest can strike anyone, anywhere, at any time. I need help.
The next time you think that “someone” should do something, please get out of your head and into you heart! Maybe YOU are that someone.”
For further information about how to make a donation to the AED Fund through the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, please contact Dame Ginny Angus DGSJ, P.O. Box 3015, Christiansted, VI 00822 (T) 305 343 7665 or by email to [email protected].
Cher Will can be contacted at 340 643 6436 or by email at [email protected].
The Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Knights Hospitaller (Malta) is one of the oldest Orders of Chivalry in existence. Its origin dates back to the times of the Crusades in the Middle Ages. Today the organization operates worldwide through its many nonprofit entities. Each Commandery carries out its own programs of humanitarian projects, while promoting additional good works undertaken by individual members. For more information please visit http://www.osjmalta.org.
Cher Will is an extraordinary person. We can all be extraordinary. Do you have an AED Program in your municipality? At work? In your school? If you need help getting started, write to us at [email protected]. We’ll do whatever we can to assist you in your efforts.
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