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Stateline woman using near death experience to teach others about heart health

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PECATONICA (WREX) — February is American Heart Month which is focused on educating people about heart health as well as preventing heart disease.

This is a cause near and dear to Heather Baker's heart.

The curriculum director for the Pecatonica School District has made it her mission to teach her students about the importance of CPR.

"We had a variety of events across the entire district. All fourth, fifth, eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th graders are all CPR trained by myself, our P.E. teachers and our school nurse," Baker said.

1 in 3 people are affected by cardio vascular disease.

It can happen out of nowhere.

Anyone can go into sudden cardiac arrest anywhere and at anytime which is why Baker wants the kids to know what to do if they are in the situation.

Often times "anywhere" is at home which means "anyone" is likely someone you care about.

"80% of cardiac arrests actually happen at home. So odds are pretty high this will happen to your loved on in the home," Baker said

"For some survivors, it's been there children who have been the ones to initiate CPR and that saved their lives."

Heather Baker is a survivor herself.

On Feb. 1, 2018, Baker walked into work for a meeting when, all of a sudden, things didn't feel right.

"I was 28 years old and I had just started working her at Pecatonica School District," Baker said.

"I walked into a meeting, sat my things down and suddenly felt really dizzy. I tried to leave to go to the bathroom but on my way, my heart stopped and I dropped to the floor."

Baker was in a coma for a day before waking up in the hospital.

Her survival puts her in the minority.

Less than nine percent of victims of cardiac arrest survive and many of those that do live lose some ability to walk and talk on their own.

Baker's doctors called her situation "incredible" because of how quickly her coworkers sprang into action to help her.

"Within the first four minutes started CPR and that's what you need in order to survive," Baker said.

"I have the unique opportunity where I work with my heroes every day. "

Pecatonica Middle School principal Tim King is one of those heroes.

King helped keep Baker stable until paramedics arrived and he now helps her instruct students through the CPR process.

He enjoys being able to spread a positive message with Heather, whom he calls a success story.

"I think when you have those types of stories, they're either tragedies or successful stories like Heather's. You're able to share that story with kids," King said.

Heather's story is personal for the Pecatonica School District.

However, it isn't exclusive to the stateline.

Heather is an active advocate for heart health and travels across Illinois to share her experience with others.

"I just became obsessed with finding a way to give back and as I heard more stories about people who had perished from sudden cardiac arrest, it fueled me more," Baker said.

"I use my story as a catalyst and to teacher other people."

That's why Heather feels the younger people learn about CPR, the better.

The students are scared by it either.

They're excited to be able to learn how to save lives.

"They want to figure out 'how can I become a hero? How can I save my mom because I lover her,'" Baker said.

"It's really initiated throughout our entire community. This knowledge of heart health and what to do when an emergency happens."

She has full support from her school as well.

Pecatonica School District not only is helping Heather carry on her mission but also encouraging other schools in the area to take the torch she lit for heart health education.

"I challenge other school districts to try and teach all of their students hands only CPR and how to use the AED," King said.

"There's a lot of resources, whether it's working with Heather to be able to help your school district or other agencies and places that can help you."

There's also a resource for survivors of cardiac arrest.

Heather runs a Facebook page to help those in need of guidance after what they went through.

The page is called "Heather's Heart Squad which you can learn more about by clicking here.

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Evan Leake

Evan Leake anchors for 13 News Today and 13 News at Noon. Evan grew up in Darien, Illinois, a south-west suburb of Chicago. He came to WREX in 2017 and worked his way to the anchor desk in May of 2019. He coordinates both the Teacher of the Week and Inspiring 815 series for 13 News. You can connect with Evan at eleake@wrex.com or Evan Leake on Facebook.

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