Millsboro girl’s brush with death brings focus to CPR and AEDs


Tha-thump. Tha-Thump. Tha-Thump.

Coastal Point •  Submitted: Millsboro’s Sierra Hall is sparking interest and awareness in CPR and AEDs through her brave story.Coastal Point • Submitted
Millsboro’s Sierra Hall is sparking interest and awareness in CPR and AEDs through her brave story.

The beating of a heart. It’s a familiar sound that silently and methodically keeps us all alive — a sound that happens about 60 to 100 times per minute in a healthy adult. Minute by minute, day by day, year by year, the heart just keeps pumping. Until one day, it beats no more. For many people that comes after a long life, filled with years of birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones. For some, it comes way too soon and, in the blink of an eye, everything changes.

Millsboro resident Sierra Hall is one of those people. Hall, at just 9 years old, collapsed and went into cardiac arrest while playing lacrosse this past April.

But that’s not the end of her story. Because of the way things unfolded that day – including quick action by bystanders – today, except for a few changes to her activity level, she remains a healthy 10-year old. But now she is on a mission to spread the word about the importance of learning CPR and of raising funds for life-saving research.

In an effort to “walk the walk,” Hall and her team — “Team Little but Brave,” which consists of about 130 people — will be walking in the American Heart Association’s Sussex County Heart Walk this Saturday, Oct. 22, at Delaware Tech in Georgetown.

The public is invited to join the team. Even those who can’t participate this weekend can donate for up to 30 days beyond the event.

Recalling that spring day when Sierra collapsed, Melanie Hall, Sierra’s mother, said she was shocked and confused.

“It was a horrible day,” she said. “It was every mother’s nightmare, thinking that you are going to lose your child … seeing them do CPR on her and using an AED [automated external defribrillator].”

When she collapsed, Hall was administered to by a nurse who just happened to be at the game, until the paramedics arrived. Although she had been born with congenital heart defect – transposition of the great arteries (TGA) and ventricular septal defect (VSD), and had undergone two open heart surgeries before her first birthday – Hall had lived a fairly normal, active life until that fateful day in April. Just seven months earlier she had passed her yearly check-up, including an exercise test, with flying colors.

“She was fine up until that day,” her mother explained.

After the collapse and Sierra’s third open-heart surgery, almost immediately Melanie Hall went into action, starting Team Little but Brave and finding ways to give back. She said her friends told her she was crazy, but she had to find ways to keep busy. By raising money for the American Heart Association, the Halls can give back and support two of the things that came in handy with Sierra: internal defibrillators and CPR.

Sierra now has a permanent defibrillator in her abdomen and has had a valve replacement using a cow valve – something she will have to have done again in another six or seven years. She and her family have participated in events promoting the importance of learning CPR and of supporting organizations, such as the American Heart Association, that fund research that produces life-saving technology including defibrillators and cow valves. Sierra is one of the top fundraisers for the Heart Walk in Georgetown, having raised about $7,000 with her team.

When asked if Sierra really comprehends the importance of getting the word out there and raising money for the cause, her mother said she does.

“She’s excited. One of her friends, Josie, from the hospital, was waiting for a new heart and got one a few weeks ago. And she said to me, ‘I know why you want to do this heart walk. It gives money to research stuff.’ Josie just got a new machine, and it kind of clicked to her, that she has this friend that she is helping out.”

And, asked if she really has fully processed the events of the past few months, Melanie Hall said she has, and she just wants to be able to use their story to emphasize to the community the importance of knowing CPR.

“Looking back, she had been in the game for 45 minutes. Another 15 minutes, and we would have been in the car, and I wouldn’t have known what to do.”

To visit Sierra Hall’s page, or to donate, visit www.heartwalk.org and click on Delaware and then click on Sierra Hall, or visit her Facebook page by searching for Team Little but Brave. The Heart Walk at Delaware Tech in Georgetown starts at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22, with activities including a moon bounce, art projects and opening ceremonies. The walk starts at 10 a.m.

CPR statistics from

the American Heart

Association

• Less than 8 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest outside the hospital survive.

• Sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone at any time. Many victims appear healthy with no known heart disease or other risk factors.

• Sudden cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack. Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when electrical impulses in the heart become rapid or chaotic, which causes the heart to suddenly stop beating. A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart muscle is blocked. A heart attack may cause cardiac arrest.

• Less than one-third of out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest victims receive bystander CPR.

• About 5,900 children 18 years old and under suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrest each year from all causes – including trauma, cardiovascular causes and sudden infant death syndrome.

• The incidence of out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest in high school athletes ranges from .28 to 1 death per 100,000 high school athletes annually in the U.S.

• The American Heart Association does not have a minimum age requirement for people to learn CPR. The ability to perform CPR is based more on body strength rather than age.

• Studies have shown that children as young as 9 years old can learn and retain CPR skills.