To celebrate American Heart Month, the News Blog is highlighting some of the latest heart-centric news and stories from all parts of Penn Medicine.
Just in time for the start of American Heart Month, Penn Medicine kicked off the MyHeartMap Challenge yesterday. For the first time, the wisdom of the crowd – and thousands of smart phones – will be put to work saving lives in Philadelphia. The six-week contest calls on “citizen scientists” to help Penn Medicine researchers locate and map the locations of all of the city’s automated external defibrillators, which are an essential piece of the so-called “chain of survival” necessary to save lives from cardiac arrest.
MyHeartMap Challenge Director Raina Merchant, an emergency physician who studies the growing role of social media in emergency preparedness and educating the public about cardiac arrest issues, estimates that there’s about 5,000 AEDs in the city of Philadelphia. But other than the obvious ones – clearly marked, say, on the walls of airport – no one knows where they are, meaning they’re likely to go unused precisely when they’re needed most. The inexcusable result? “Inevitably,” Merchant says, “people die every day, with a device nearby.”
She tried developing a map of the city’s AEDs the old-fashioned way, by sending a team of students out to canvas the city. But the shoe-leather approach proved daunting: In six weeks of searching, they were able to photograph only 100 of the devices, in 1,300 buildings they checked. MyHeartMap Challenge participants, on the other hand, located nearly that many devices during just the first day of the contest this week. After the team validates the information collected during the contest, Merchant plans to create an AED registry for the city’s 911 Center, and an app for the public to access when they witness cardiac arrests. (There’s 300,000 of them each year across the nation – that’s more than 820 a day, in every location you can imagine.)
There are lots of reasons that might motivate people to participate in the MyHeartMap Challenge. The monetary incentive, for one, is powerful fuel: $10,000 will go to the person or team who locate the largest number of AEDs, and there’s dozens of chances to win $50 by being the first person to find one of the pre-located “golden AEDs” around the city. And strategizing and racing around the city snapping pictures with a cell phone is bound to be fun -- a concept that fits in nicely with Penn’s campus-wide Year of Games program. As David Fox, director of the Penn Reading Project, noted in today’s Daily Pennsylvanian story about the contest, games such as scavenger hunts are becoming a key way to promote social change. “More and more people are looking to games to help propel social agendas,” he told the paper. “While games include mental and physical skills, they are also about bringing people together. Building community groups is an important part of the theme, and it is evident in the MyHeartMap Challenge.”
The challenge aspect is another key motivator, and we’re impressed to see the level of professional game that participants are bringing to the contest, from parts of the nation and world far outside city lines. An international team, based at the University of California at San Diego, with partners in Abu Dhabi and at the University of Southampton in the UK, says they’re poised to strategize their way to the win, and expand their research about the power of crowd sourcing along the way. "We very rarely have a chance to piggyback on an experiment like this," team leader Manuel Cebrian, a University of California-San Diego computer scientist, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "We have hundreds of computer models simulating the challenge. That's useful for designing strategies, but nothing can fully anticipate reality.”
But all that fun, games, treasure-hunting and strategizing is for an important cause, too: Each of those still-hidden AEDs represents an opportunity to save lives. Cierra Edwards, a student at the Community College of Philadelphia, has special reason to join the contest: Her father, who suffered a cardiac arrest in 30th Street Station less than a month ago, likely wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for the quick work of a SEPTA station manager who located an AED nearby and a nurse passenger who performed CPR to keep his blood pumping until his heart could be restarted. She shared her story with CBS3 yesterday as she began her own hunt for the lifesaving devices near campus – they’re a sight she doesn’t take for grant anymore. “I feel as though this contest and everything that we do, it’s going to be an eye opener. Wake people up, to get educated and to learn about the AEDs,” she said.
Not knowing where an AED is during a cardiac arrest is terrifying, as a 6ABC story about the launch of the MyHeartMap Challenge revealed. They profiled the experience of Mike Hoaglin, a Perelman School of Medicine student whose med school training came in handy when he least expected it last spring – on a Center City street on his way home from the hospital, when a man collapsed from a cardiac arrest in the street. He knew just what to do until help arrived, but he recalled how hard it was to locate an AED in the crucial first minutes following the man’s arrest – a nearby restaurant and drugstore didn’t have one, but a second Penn Med student finally found one in her nearby apartment building, and the team was able to save the man’s life.
Are you signed up for the MyHeartMap Challenge? Become part of the contest today, and stay tuned here on our News Blog for more great stories as the Challenge takes off.