When Reem Fatayerji was a senior in high school, a good friend and fellow classmate died suddenly of a heart attack.
The experience had a profound effect on Fatayerji, now a fourth-year student at UC Davis. David Hu was a seemingly normal and healthy 17-year-old sitting next to her in class at San Diego’s Rancho Bernardo High School one day and conspicuously absent the next.
“He was going to be valedictorian, scored a perfect SAT, but he was also really balanced as a friend — funny and friendly,” said Fatayerji, who is double-majoring in international relations and economics and minoring in human rights. “He was a very normal person other than the fact that he was such a good student. The point is that it literally can happen to absolutely anyone.”
To bring this message to her peers, Fatayerji joined in the planning for this year's UC Davis Wears Red Day — Friday, Feb. 5 — and is bringing in a new activity to the third annual event: training in hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
The 30-minute training sessions, free and open to the public, are scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the UC Davis Wears Red Day tent on Hutchison Field. The tent also is the venue for the Battle Heart Disease Fair, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. See last week’s UC Davis Wears Red Day article, including our plan to once again gather as many people as possible to make a heart formation on Hutchison Field, at noon.
Fatayerji arranged her lineup of hands-only CPR trainers in coordination with the UC Davis Health System.
Training in hands-only CPR does not equal certification in traditional CPR. Still, the American Heart Association recommends hands-only CPR in cases where a teen or adult suddenly collapses in an “out-of-hospital” setting (such as at home, at work or in a park). “CPR can more than double a person’s chances of survival,” according to the AHA.
“I thought educating people about how to do CPR can save someone from a bad situation, which can lead to (guilt and) having bad mental health,” Fatayerji said. “Why shouldn’t we do this? Here, I can finally have an outlet for grieving and educate so many people at the same time.”
Assessing risk important for all
Fatayerji’s personal story also highlights the oft-perpetuated myth that heart disease is an illness that affects only older people. In fact, risk increases with age, but other factors contribute, including smoking and diet. And genetic defects can go undetected.
Reaching younger adults with heart health messages is important because “heart disease develops over the course of decades, well before symptoms become apparent,” said cardiologist Amparo Villablanca, director of the UC Davis Women’s Cardiovascular Medicine Program. She worked with Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi to launch UC Davis Wears Red Day.
The day promotes heart health among women and men and students in particular. “It is critical for people of all ages to know the importance of adopting healthy habits that include daily exercise, a healthy diet and avoiding tobacco,” Villablanca said.
Younger people can also have diet-related plaques that can lead to coronary artery disease, hypertension, heart attacks and stroke. Risk factors such as obesity and type 2 diabetes are also now more prevalent in younger people.
“There is no such thing as too young for heart disease,” said Villablanca, whose youngest heart attack patient was 21 years old.
A desire to help others
A former ASUCD senator, Fatayerji originally envisioned the CPR training as a separate event in February (which, after all, is Heart Month). But, tapping into UC Davis Wears Red Day made sense.
Fatayerji said she hopes similar training opportunities will continue to be a part of UC Davis Wears Red Day after she graduates. She also plans to bring a resolution to the ASUCD to make it an annual philanthropic tradition.
“If I had another long-term goal, it would be to make this implemented in freshman orientation,” she said. “If all incoming students have to learn, at the end of the day one person will know enough to help one of their friends.”
And though until now, Fatayerji herself has not been certified in CPR—she’s thought a lot about what she would do if an emergency ever presented itself.
“That’s the thing — you don’t have to save lives, you just need to keep them alive until the paramedics come,” she said. “That alone is a life-saving skill.”