By Mike Ferguson
Posted Jan 15, 2018 at 8:41 PMUpdated at 7:08 AM
POINCIANA – One Poinciana community has taken life-saving to a new level.
About two years ago, residents started the AED/CPR joint project in Solivita, a gated community off Johnson Avenue. The project aims to certify as many residents as possible in Automated External Defibrillator training as well as CPR.
“It’s an over-55 community, but it’s an active community,” said Stanley Dillard, the program’s founder. “We’ve had a number of successes.”
Dillard said while he was president of the Rotary Club of Poinciana, he read in The Ledger about the Lakeland Rotary chapter raising funds to place more than 100 AEDs in Lakeland Police Department vehicles. Dillard said his Rotary organization wasn’t as interested, so he started pursuing other avenues, including his neighborhood.
“All in all, we feel like it’s a really successful program,” said Michael White, the county coordinator for the program. “We train as many people in our community as we possibly can.”
Dillard and White said the program originally started out small. During a community Olympic-style event, Dillard said one man collapsed while playing tennis and was resuscitated 27 minutes before paramedics arrived by trained residents. Another was resuscitated on the golf course about two weeks after AEDs were placed there.
“These stories started to spread and, suddenly, it just exploded,” Dillard said. “The number (of AEDs in the community) just keeps growing.”
In a community of about 4,000 homes, nearly 2,500 residents are trained in how to use the AEDs. The community currently has about 55 AEDs, which are valued in excess of $100,000.
“Solivita is a gated community and the income level is greater than just outside the gates,” Dillard said. “People have been very generous with their money.”
Dillard noted that the community also has 250 different clubs for things ranging from sports to hobbies to the arts. Dillard is part of the Solivita Showtime Entertainers, which is a group that performs musical shows. Dillard said the AED program is mentioned during every show.
“You come to be entertained, but during intermission, you do have to sit through a two-minute informative message,” Dillard said. “Once people saw the devices in place, that’s when the neighborhood started getting more involved.”
White said Solivita’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is the largest in Polk County. White said the project began originally as a joint effort with Polk Fire Rescue and still is, but the community has enough people trained that it can hold courses without Fire Rescue having to be present.
“The real credit is that we’ve trained people and we can respond quickly and by quickly, I mean in one or two minutes,” White said. “The real beauty of what we do is that it is a true collaboration between us and Polk County Fire Rescue. We don’t have to have full-time paramedics to train people in our communities.”
Dillard said he visited The Villages when he was first exploring putting the program together because that community had 40 percent of its residents trained and a 40 percent success rate. Dillard said the success rate in Solivita is better than 50 percent.
“We try to put the AEDs where they’re most visible in our community,” Dillard said. “They’re hard to see at night, so they have a small, blue blinking light. We’ve encouraged over 52 percent of our residents to be trained in CPR and AED. At any given event, more than half the room will be able to resuscitate you.”
White said some claim the rate is 100 percent in the community. The national rate is just 7 percent and the county rate is 11 percent. White added that he is hopeful this will help other communities.
“We absolutely view this as a blueprint,” White said. “Citizens CPR – headquartered in Lakeland – they’ve come in and examined our program. This can be duplicated and we hope there will be others.”