GCGH Foundation gifts lifesaving devices to GCSD ~Agency creates ‘legacy of love’ to honor Elizabeth Harris

The local nonprofit Greene County General Hospital Foundation made a gift of nine brand-new AEDs Tuesday to the Greene County Sheriff’s Department, enough to equip every sheriff’s vehicle with one of the lifesaving devices.

The gift was made possible through donations from the community, the UDWI REMC Community Grant and a grant from the Greene County Foundation.

Each AED, or automated external defibrillator, is compact, portable and lightweight and its use can make the difference between life or death for someone in an emergency situation.

According to the Mayo Clinic, AEDs are used to revive someone from sudden cardiac arrest. This usually occurs when a disruption in the heart’s electrical activity causes a dangerously fast heartbeat (ventricular tachycardia) or a fast and irregular heartbeat (ventricular fibrillation). Either of these irregular heart rhythms keeps the heart from pumping effectively and can cause it to stop.

When this happens, the brain and other vital organs don’t get the blood and oxygen they need. This requires treatment within minutes to prevent death. The sooner the heart’s rhythm is restored, the greater the chance there won’t be permanent damage to the brain and other organs. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) after cardiac arrest can keep blood flowing to the heart and brain for a time, but often only defibrillation can restore the heart’s rhythm. Together, these treatments can improve the chances of survival.

The impetus that drove the donation project forward began with a 911 call from Sandborn late on a Thursday evening in May 2020.

On the evening of Thursday, May 28, 2020, 911 dispatch received a call for help from the Harris home in Sandborn when it was feared Elizabeth Rose Harris, 67, was having a heart attack.

The Greene County Sheriff’s Department (GCSD) was first on the scene, as they often are with 911 calls, and one of Harris’ daughters, Brenda, asked the deputy if he carried an AED.

“I’m sorry,” the deputy told her helplessly, “We don’t have any AEDs.” Together, the daughters and the deputy worked feverishly to revive Harris, keeping her heart pumping and using CPR for 45 minutes until EMTs arrived on the scene.

Harris was transported to Greene County General Hospital (GCGH) via ambulance where, sadly, she passed away, leaving behind her husband of 46 years, Ralph Harris; her mother, Ella Rose Bredeweg; a sister; a brother; two grandsons; and two daughters, Rebecca Harris and Brenda Reetz.

Reetz is the CEO of Greene County General Hospital, and upon her mother’s passing, was determined her death not be in vain, but rather act as a catalyst to save others’ lives.

Reetz felt determined to turn her family’s tragedy into something positive, and her close associate and GCGH Foundation Director Stacy Burris agreed.

Harris’ obituary requests, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to Harris’ church, Saron United Church of Christ or to the GCGH Foundation through the funeral home.

The Harris family had decided to purchase an AED to donate to the Sheriff’s Department in Elizabeth’s memory.

Enough donations were gathered from the funeral to purchase one AED device, but Burris, along with GCGH Foundation Outreach Coordinator Grace Cross, wasn’t about to stop there.

The duo, with the consent of the GCGH Foundation Board of Directors, applied for grant funding through the UDWI REMC program and the Greene County Foundation and were awarded grants from both.

Burris said the REMC grant purchased one more AED, and the Foundation was delighted when the Greene County Foundation awarded them enough to purchase seven more, meeting their goal to outfit every deputy’s car in the sheriff’s fleet.

Cross said, after consulting with Greene County EMTs as to which brand was best, they decided on the PhysioControl Lifepak CR 2 AED, an easy-to-use device that allows for CPR compressions to be performed during heart rhythm analysis. The device is rated 4.5 of 5 stars on americanaed.com and training in its use will be provided to every sheriff’s deputy.

“We appreciate this very much,” said Greene County Sheriff Mike Hasler. “Our deputies are often close by and are the first to arrive to an emergency call. We have saved numerous lives by carrying Narcan (a drug that reverses the effects of opioids, stopping overdoses) and this will be another way we can make a difference.”

Burris, Cross and the GCGH Foundation have no intention of stopping with the gift they were able to provide the GCSD.

“We’re definitely happy this came together,” Burris said, “And we’re not stopping with this donation. AEDs can save lives everywhere and any place where people gather should be equipped with one.”

For this reason, the foundation created the Greene County AED Project and will continue to seek grant funding and other donations to provide AEDs to organizations who want them.

“I want to urge people, especially people who are trained in CPR, to find out where in the county AEDs are located,” Reetz said. “Schools have them, and they have trained staff to use them. Ask your church if they have one, ask at the store where you shop for groceries.”

In an ideal world, AEDs would be available everywhere people are, and with awareness raised, they can be.

Equipping every county sheriff is a great start and the GCGH Foundation has made great strides in increasing awareness of the need for AEDs.

Perhaps best of all, every one of the donated devices is inscribed with “GCGH Foundation, in memory of Elizabeth Harris”, creating a legacy in which Harris, by virtue of her passing, will potentially save lives every day.

For more information, or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit the foundation at www.greenecountyhospital.com/foundation/, call 812-699-4438 or visit their page on social media.