"How do I do CPR?

What do I do with that defibrillator?

Is it too complicated for me? I'm not a doctor, I'm not a nurse, I'm not a paramedic.

Am I able to handle it?"

Project Heartbeat
L-R: Haley Breen, representatives from Patriots' Path Council Boy Scouts of America, and Dr. Matthew Martinez (Photo credit: Atlantic Health System)

Alleviating those concerns is one of the chief goals of Project Heartbeat, launched earlier this month by Atlantic Health System, which operates medical centers in Morristown, Hackettstown, Newton, Pompton Plains and Summit. Dr. Matthew Martinez, medical director of sports cardiology for Atlantic Health, said paramedics can't be everywhere when a crisis hits, but everyday people can be.

"I really view this as a life skill," he said. "This is as easy as being able to read street signs and understand simple math."

Project Heartbeat works to identify certain community groups in New Jersey that can benefit the most from improved access to training in CPR, especially hands-only, and the use of automated external defibrillators, all of which Martinez said are "proven methods" to help save lives.

The initiative's first event on June 11 provided training to more than 80 local Boy Scouts, and in fact, working specifically with New Jersey youth is something Martinez hopes to emphasize moving forward. He said hands-only CPR is simpler now than ever before, and can be mastered by seventh- or eighth-graders.

Martinez wants everyone, children of those ages included, to feel "a little less timid" when it comes to these procedures. His research has found that even one session of 30 to 45 minutes can make potential trainees much more comfortable.

"It takes away the ability to run away from a scenario, but more likely to run towards it and give yourself an opportunity to participate in a life-saving measure," he said.

Martinez said no one person fits the profile of having a sudden cardiac event with no prior heart conditions. It could happen to a student-athlete at 16, or a weekend warrior at 40. There's "no limit to who should be educated" about CPR and AEDs, he said, and the greater point is that bystanders should be adequately prepared to step in.

"What happens is, folks revert to their level of training," Martinez said. "So if you know how to handle a crisis situation, then you act accordingly."

One person on hand for the recent launch of Project Heartbeat was 29-year-old Haley Breen, whose life was saved by first responders using an AED. She had no diagnosed heart issues leading up to that moment. More on her ordeal, and Project Heartbeat in general, can be found at haleystory.com.

Patrick Lavery produces "New Jersey's First News" and is New Jersey 101.5's morning drive breaking news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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