15-year-old boy performs life-saving CPR on mom after sudden cardiac arrest

Kristen Walenga is the founder of the nonprofit Kristen's Heart Beat.

ByKay Cesinger WLS logo
Sunday, January 29, 2023
Our Chicago Part 1: Heart Health
Someone has a heart attack roughly every 40 seconds in the U.S., the American Heart Association said.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- According to the American Heart Association, roughly every 40 seconds, someone in this country has a heart attack.

And, heart disease is the number one killer for both men and women in the U.S. But, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only about 56% of women are aware of that.

February is American Heart Month. And, Feb. 3 is National Wear Red Day, to raise awareness. Kristen Walenga is a survivor of sudden cardiac arrest and the founder of the nonprofit Kristen's Heart Beat.

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She collapsed in 2019 while at home with her children. Her 15-year-old son saved her life.

"He heard the commotion following my collapse and my two youngest children had witnessed it. He heard them calling for help and yelling and screaming and he came upon the scene and he immediately recognized that it was a cardiac emergency. From what he learned in school and immediately began chest compressions," Walenga said.

Walenga said she didn't even know her son had learned CPR while in middle school. Now, she's working to make sure others know how to perform this life-saving procedure.

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Heart disease is the number one killer for both men and women in the U.S.

"I work very closely with my local first responders that were on the scene of my save. And, what we try to do, is start right in our own community and offer frequent trainings, work with local groups to get trainings in place, whether it be a sports group, a club, But also, what I really try to impress upon people, is that my son, who was only 15 at the time, and had very basic hands-only training, it was the key to my survival, and the key to saving my neurological function," Walenga said.

Doctor Mercedes Carnethon is president of the American Heart Association Chicago Metropolitan Board and vice chair of Preventative Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

"The risk factors for heart disease for women and men are very similar. We often are very aware of the genetic component. But, an even larger component is our lifestyle behaviors. Smoking is one of the leading, modifiable behavioral risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Inactivity, short sleep or poor quality sleep and a poor diet. All of those contribute to the development of risk factors such obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes. And those combine to be the reasons why we see cardiovascular disease in women and men," Carnethon said.

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