Baraboo churches are working to save hearts, as well as souls.

The congregations that brought the Community Heart Saver education program to Baraboo are looking to expand their reach. They offer training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, automated external defibrillation and first aid, and they want more in the community to take part.

In seven years, the ecumenical program has provided more than 800 training sessions to countless volunteers. The result is a community better prepared to handle emergencies.

According to the American Heart Association, the survival rate of a cardiac arrest patient increases 30 to 50 percent if a bystander administers CPR or defibrillation within five minutes of collapse. Training residents to become rescuers makes the community safer.

“Imagine what we could do if we could grow the team,” said Trinity Episcopal Church parish nurse and trainer Jeff Culbertson.

Heart-smart start

An American Heart Association program, Community Heart Saver came to Baraboo in 2010, when a coalition of parish nurses joined forces to provide CPR training as an outreach ministry. They got started with equipment and materials loaned by the Ho-Chunk Nation, later winning grant support to sustain the program.

Trinity Episcopal and St. Joseph’s churches got the program started. A host of other congregations and nonprofit organizations have participated in training sessions.

“We’ll seek partnerships wherever we can,” Culbertson said. “Partnerships build communities.”

The program’s founders are looking to the next generation of volunteers to carry Heart Saver forward. They also seek Spanish-speaking instructors and interpreters.

“We would like to see more involvement from the other churches,” Culbertson said. “We have a lot of hours in this, and we think we have a lot to offer.”

Room for more

Heart Saver charges nominal fees for training sessions, far below commercial rates.

“We want to be self-sustaining, but we also want to be affordable,” Culbertson said.

Topics range from saving choking victims to handling blood-borne pathogens. Trainees learn how to clear bystanders during a medical emergency, and how to get key information from family members quickly.

According to the AHA, someone suffering cardiac arrest can suffer brain damage in five to seven minutes, and can die within 10. Bystander intervention is critical, when it can take an ambulance seven minutes to arrive.

“When people see events, they want to know what they can do,” said parish nurse Terri Thomas.

The program’s longevity has earned trust, with churches such as First Presbyterian in Baraboo and Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Wisconsin Dells signing on. In 2012 the Heart Saver program was nominated for a Global Vision Community Partnership Award. “It isn’t a fly-by-night that came on for two, three years,” said volunteer Manny Bolz.

Trinity parishioner and Heart Saver volunteer Bevra Cole said the program lifts spirits as it promotes health. “This is just one way to build a community, to build good, healthy relationships,” she said.

Editor's note: This article was changed Oct. 6 to correct information about the program's Global Vision Community Partnership Award.

Follow Ben Bromley on Twitter @ben_bromley