INDIANAPOLIS - Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States, and it's affecting men and women at younger and younger ages.
With an epidemic of obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure in America, heart disease and incidents of cardiac arrest are on the rise.
Wishard Health Services and Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services teamed up with RTV6 to set up surprise heart checks on a recent Saturday afternoon at Washington Square Mall, to help people assess their risk.
EMTs tested blood pressure and cholesterol levels and taught people the new guidelines for CPR that require only compressions -- no mouth-to-mouth.
"It's very simple," said Dr. Dan O'Donnell, Deputy Medical Director of Indianapolis EMS. "Step one, activate help. Make sure someone's calling 911. If they're not breathing and you can't wake them up, very simple -- just put the heel of your hand down in the middle of their chest, just right between their nipples, put the other hand right on top, and push hard and fast to the tune of 'Staying Alive' until they wake up or help comes."
O'Donnell started the IndyCARES program in 2011with the goal to teach every person in Marion County CPR.
Data shows someone is four times more likely to survive a heart attack if a bystander is already doing CPR when EMTs arrive.
Last year, the IndyCARES program taught bystander CPR to more than 1,700 people.
Kathy Simpson and her husband, John, know firsthand the importance of bystander CPR.
"I don't think I'd be here (without it)," Kathy Simpson said.
Kathy and John were driving home from the Pacers game last March 29 when Kathy had a massive heart attack. John started driving toward Methodist Hospital at IU Health, just five minutes away, but 911 dispatchers told him it was five minutes Kathy didn't have.
"And the (dispatcher) said, 'Stop immediately, pull her out and start trying to do CPR,'" John recalled as he choked up. "And they talked me through it, and the whole time the 911 operator was telling me, 'Keep talking to me, let me know you're doing what you're supposed to be doing.'"
Kathy's heart stopped for nearly 15 minutes.
"When they got there, she was basically dead," John said.
Kathy Simpson said it's her grandkids that keep her going.
"This is Dedrick, he's 11. And this is Myra, she's 7," she said, showing off pictures of her grandchildren.
Simpson hopes she has many years left to spend with her kids and grandkids. They like to go camping and attend school activities together.
She knows she's lucky to have fully recovered from her heart attack nearly one year ago. She credits the EMTs, surgeons and her husband who immediately began CPR.
"They saved my life, all of them. I think he was the start of it though," she said, pointing to her husband. "I don't think, from what they say, that I would have made it to Methodist hospital. We weren't that far, but I don't think I'd have made it."
At the Washington Square Mall heart checks, volunteers worked to keep people from needing CPR, by assessing heart health risks.
Some younger shoppers, like Candace Crompton, were shocked by their results.
"I'm pre-hypertension," Crompton said. "To learn about that is really scary. You can go walking around with it and don't know you have it. And one day just, it's over. So, yeah, I needed to know."
Another woman told RTV6 she learned she has some work to do.
"I found out I need to get to the doctor," she said.
Phillip Lewis was surprised to find out his blood pressure is high.
"Probably something I need to get under control, check it out," Lewis said.
At just 30 years old, Brandy McGuire is already on three different blood pressure medications. During the check at the mall, she learned her cholesterol is high too.
McGuire has a history of heart disease in her family -- her grandmother had triple bypass surgery, so she knows the importance of getting her heart healthy for the sake of her young sons.
"Really, that's what keeps me going is my kids," McGuire said. "It's pretty scary. My worst fear is to die at a young age and leave my kids behind."
Changes in diet and exercise can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and therefore decrease risk for heart disease.
Cutting down on sodium is an important step. A registered dietician recommends cooking at home more often and using herbs and spices to season food instead of salt.
To email IndyCARES to train your group in CPR free of charge, click here.