“I got to hold the AED that saved this mom, and I feel like it’s Peyton’s heart beating.”
Julie Walker lost her 19 year-old daughter suddenly and tragically to Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). Since then, Julie has been a tireless advocate for SCA survival with CPR training, ECG screening, AED donations, and legislative change. At the helm of the Peyton Walker Foundation, she led a successful and impactful campaign to pass Peyton’s Law in Pennsylvania.
As a licensed practical nurse, Sue Bruce just had a sixth sense that her local Little League needed to have Automated External Defibrillators (AED) at the ball fields. Sue, a longtime league volunteer, faced considerable opposition in her campaign to acquire AEDs. However, with persistence, she obtained the funding and donations needed to equip the fields with seven AED units.
Matt Pearson is a Little League coach and an AED rescuer who, alongside Sue, helped save the life of a local parent and friend. Listen to Sue, Julie, and Matt share the interwoven stories of how Sudden Cardiac Arrest has touched their lives.
Julie, Matt, and Sue's Sudden Cardiac Arrest Story
Little League CPR Training
Sue and Julie with AED
Julie with cardiac arrest survivor and family
Anna Harleen: Today, I have the honor and privilege of sharing a story of loss, resilience, and survival. We will meet three different people whose lives have been touched by cardiac arrest. First, Julie Walker is a mother who lost her daughter to Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
Julie Walker: I’m Julie Walker, the executive director of the Peyton Walker Foundation. I found myself in this role and leading this foundation after losing my 19 year old daughter without warning to Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
Anna Harleen: And now she works tirelessly as an advocate at the helm of her daughter’s foundation.
Julie Walker: Peyton wanted to work in healthcare. So here we are doing her work. Our foundation provides AEDs to youth athletic leagues, area nonprofits, and schools. We also provide free heart screenings for thousands of kids all throughout central Pennsylvania. And we focus also on providing CPR and AED demos so that people know and are prepared to save a life.
Anna Harleen: We will also hear from Sue Bruce, a nurse who worked to acquire seven AEDs for her local little league fields. These AED units then went on to save not one, but two lives the following season.
Sue Bruce: I’m an LPN and the experience that I have had, or I should say, the unfortunate experience I’ve had with many cardiac arrests was my motivation for pursuing these AED units.
Anna Harleen: Finally, Matt Pearson, a father and coach will share his story of responding to a cardiac arrest at a little league game. Alongside Sue, Matt helped save the life of a mother in cardiac arrest with an AED donated by the Peyton Walker Foundation.
Matt Pearson: And then the reason that we’re all here, you know, last summer, my life was directly impacted because we had a friend, and a mother of one of our players, that was saved by one of Julie’s AEDs.
Anna Harleen: Sue has been involved with Little League for over 20 years. Her son has gone through the program and she even met her husband through Little League. And as a nurse, Sue knew that AEDs were not only important but necessary to have at the Little League fields. So, she took it upon herself to acquire the funding for seven AEDs to cover all the local fields.
Sue Bruce: It was just a sixth sense I guess. Something told me that I needed to do this. I was tired of hearing the ridiculous reasons: we can’t afford it, we don’t need it, they aren’t necessary. It was a struggle. It was an honest to gosh struggle. I had a lot of head on battles, I can tell you. Honestly, I did not have a whole lot of support from the board of directors to my local Little League. A lot of people told me that getting these AEDs wasn’t necessary. A lot of people thought it was more of a luxury. I’m not sure if you’re aware of it but, for local Little League organizations, the financing is not there. We’re non-profit. We have no funding except from fundraisers, concession sales, registration, and sponsorship. So the lack of finances was the biggest challenge in obtaining these AED units. Why did I pursue it? Obviously, I found my answer to that question when we had saved two people who suffered cardiac arrest in one year.
Anna Harleen: Ultimately, Sue was able to secure both funding and AED units from local businesses, hospitals, and nonprofits. And now, after two of the AED Sue acquired saved the lives in one season, she has seen a surge in interest and understanding for the importance of cardiac arrest preparedness.
Sue Bruce: I think a lot of people, especially in my league after two cardiac arrest episodes, recognize the importance of AEDs when they save lives in the community. Unlike before, I don’t have to convince anybody. You know, now the league is more than thankful. Everybody wants to know where the AEDs are. People are starting to be interested in learning CPR and how to use the AED units. We actually provided instruction on CPR/AED use at our safety meeting this year.
Anna Harleen: With their unique perspective informed by loss and survival, Julie and Matt also weigh in on the importance of AEDs in youth sports.
Julie Walker: As a parent who has lost a child to cardiac arrest, and there were no AEDs available in my daughter’s apartment building, there’s now an AED in every building on her campus because of that. You don’t ever want to be left standing there saying, “Oh my God, if only we’d had an AED” and then have to make the phone call to a parent. I’ll leave it at that.
Matt Pearson: They’re important because they’ll save lives. They saved my friend’s life. They saved the life of a mom of a kid who I’ve known for a long time. And she’s doing great. It’s all because of Peyton and Julie’s work. You need AEDs in athletics because you’re going to need them at some point. It’s not if but when.
Anna Harleen: As a mother and advocate, Julie speaks further to the importance of Sue’s work and the importance of having AEDs in youth sports to protect not only the players, but also the coaches, umpire, siblings, parents, grandparents, and the entire community that gathers.
Julie Walker: It is so important to come at this proactively and not reactively because, had Sue not been proactive, we would have lost two parents this year. There’d be kids that don’t have moms and dads. I don’t think anyone ever wants to operate from that reactive position where, “Oh my God, if only we’d had an AED.” Thankfully, AEDs are becoming more affordable. I just feel like it needs to become more of a priority. We’re working our tails off at the Peyton Walker Foundation to try to get AEDs to athletic leagues so that we don’t have these headlines that a mom is lost, a player is lost, a grandparent, a referee, or a coach is lost. I think all too often, people do put their head in the sand. Saying, “well, that’s not going to happen to us so we don’t need to worry about that.” And then when it does happen, it’s a game changer.
Educating the public about cardiac arrest, and the importance of having an AED available, is one of our critical function areas. People just don’t understand. People might think, “well, we can just wait for EMS to get here.” They don’t understand that survival from cardiac arrest is less than 10%. And for every minute that passes, a person’s chances of survival go down by 10%. So with typical ambulance response times between 12-15 minutes, if it’s a good day, there’s 0% chance of survival. Someone in cardiac arrest must have the defibrillation from an AED to get their heart restarted in a normal rhythm. So education is essential. Having people understand that it can happen anytime, anywhere.
Sue and Matt’s story shows how these people saved a mom. There was a little boy who would not have his mom here today if they hadn’t been there and used that AED to help. And I think people can relate to those stories a little bit better when you just try to shove facts and statistics at them. Just saying, “hey read this and comply.” They don’t get it. But when you have real life stories and you can show what a wonderful thing this is, why AEDs are such an important tool, people will be on board.
Anna Harleen: As Julie mentioned, both Sue and Matt saved the life of a mother at a Little League game. Here’s Matt with the story.
Matt Pearson: I was the head coach for this team. I was coaching third base and our team was losing at that point. Our next batter came up and hit a huge three run home run. And, if I get emotional, you’ll have to excuse me, I’ve not really revisited this in quite some time. So Joey hits this huge three run home run and goes over to the dugout where everyone is celebrating. Joey was standing there talking to his mom because, you know, he just hit this big home run.
My mom was also there, and, from third base, I could hear my mom scream for help. I knew it was my mom, and I knew from the tone of her voice that something was really wrong. Joey saw his mom collapsed and then I heard Sue’s husband yell for Sue.
At that point, everything just kind of stopped. I was still out on the field and didn’t entirely know what was happening. So I quickly moved in towards our dugout and saw Erica on the ground. By that point, Sue was already there. Other people were starting to help Erica and Sue was leading that charge. I tried to get the boys in the dugout and settle the boys down. As with any emergency situation like this, there initially was a lot of chaos.
Anna Harleen: Watching this all unfold before him, Matt realized he needed to step in and take action.
Matt Pearson: I was watching all of this and then, at some point, I heard this voice in my head that said I should go help. I have training for this, I’ve been involved in these kinds of situations before, and I can do something to help. So I made my way out of the dugout area to where Sue was with Erica. And by the time that I had got there, Sue had made the decision that we needed the AED and the AED was immediately already. It was maybe just a couple of minutes and the AED was right there because Sue had acted so quickly. So by the time I got out there, Sue was already in the process of getting the AED set up and the pads were already in place. My memory gets a little cloudy, but I think by the time I got out there, the AED was already delivering or about to deliver a shock.
Sue Bruce: No, because I put the AED on her between you doing compressions. So you did a few more compressions and then the AED delivered the shock.
Anna Harleen: Julie reflects on what this AED save means to her.
Julie Walker: Well, I may not be as successful as Matt at not breaking down. It was one of the defining moments of my life when I went to the ball field the next day. I got a call on a Saturday night and my phone started ringing. We had just sat down to watch a movie. And I’m like, “who in the heck is calling me on a Saturday night?” And it was Sue calling me to say, “You’re not going to believe this, but we just used your AED to save a mom.”
So I said, “I need to come see that AED tomorrow. I’m going to bring you new pads” because I wanted to make sure that they had pads to replace the used ones immediately. I went and met Sue and got to hold the AED that saved this mom.
And like I said, that was one of the most defining moments of my lifetime. I paid a heck of a heavy price losing my daughter. But knowing that through that loss, mom was saved. It was an incredibly rewarding moment. I’ve gotten to hold that AED several times now. And honestly, it’s like I just feel Peyton’s heart beating and the work that she’s doing to save others.
I’m so proud of the work we’re doing, so proud. And I want to continue to educate the community. I want to continue to motivate people and make sure that they have AEDs at their ball fields and their practice fields and their schools and everywhere that they’re accessible.
Anna Harleen: For Sue, responding to this emergency really highlighted the importance of taking action when other people stand back.
Sue Bruce: Our two events opened a lot of eyes. There were so many people, you know, I talked through the event with. They had difficulties adjusting to what they saw actually play out in front of them. It is nothing like you see on television. You’d be surprised by how many people, as much as they may want to help, don’t step in and help. One of the other parents, she was willing to come over and help me. But it’s not something people want to jump into.
Anna Harleen: As someone who’s trained hundreds of people in CPR, Julie also weighs in on the importance of educating people and empowering them to take action
Julie Walker: To Sue’s point, like she said, a lot of people just stand around. They are just paralyzed with fear and they don’t know what to do. So it is critical to make sure people know that it’s safe to jump in and start CPR. I think a lot of people are hung up on the breathing. They think they have to do CPR with rescue breaths. But that’s not true. There had been huge changes in protocols that recommend hands-only CPR. That’s education we need to get out there.
Anna Harleen: In addition to providing CPR and AED training, Julie works to improve cardiac arrest awareness, preparedness, and survival with legislation, cardiac screenings and more
Julie Walker: Sudden Cardiac Arrest is the number one killer of student athletes in our country. Every hour, every day, we lose a child to Sudden Cardiac Arrest. And most often it’s because of an undiagnosed heart condition. So all too often, these are detectable and treatable heart issues that a simple electrocardiogram can help to find. We could save so many more lives if we had these tests readily available. We are working on Peyton’s Law that will help educate parents about the importance of electrocardiogram testing. More specifically, right now, it’s more sports-related. There is going to be paperwork that parents have to fill out when they register their kids to play sports in school. But we’re hoping that there’s a trickle down effect that once parents who have athletes read this information and understand the importance of electrocardiogram testing. It will roll down and cover the non-athletes as well.
This is probably the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life, but it is incredibly rewarding. Having the chance to get to meet Matt and Sue, it is just life changing. And this is just one story. I think we can make this happen over and over and over again. We can have success stories. We can have wins. We can save kids, we can save parents, we save coaches. I mean, there’s nothing but good things to come out of having AEDs readily accessible. Nothing but good can come from preparing people to jump in, start CPR, and get the AED.
Anna Harleen: For these three, it all comes back to Julie’s daughter, Peyton.
Julie Walker: Well, Matt and Sue are my true heart heroes. I have so much respect and admiration for the two of them. So hugs to Matt and Sue.
Matt Pearson: I miss you guys. It’s great to hear everyone’s voices. And yeah, Julie, we’re all here because of Peyton. Thank you. You could not be doing better work. I think I’ve told you this several times, but I thank God all the time that I had the chance to have my life crossed with yours. I’ll do anything that you need me to. I’ll share this story as many times as you need me to if that helps you. So thank you.
Sue Bruce: That’s what I told her. After our first rescue, I said it was Peyton. She is doing her mission, Julie, just in a different way.
Julie Walker: Well, she was really good at getting everybody else to do her work.