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Article originally published Spring 2023 in The Monitor magazine.


Like most 6-year-old boys, Ryder Vaughan, of New Lexington, is constantly in motion. His energetic personality never fails to leave his parents, Andrew and Taylor Vaughan, feeling uneasy; Ryder has a hereditary heart condition that could cause him to go into cardiac arrest at any moment, particularly when he’s experiencing high levels of adrenaline. It’s a reality that Andrew, who lives with the same condition, knows all too well.

“I understand now why my dad was so cautious when I was a kid, always watching me like a hawk, because I’m doing that with my own son,” said Andrew, 26. “But my wife and I have been through many CPR classes and are both certified. We want to do everything we can to be proactive so that we’ll know what to do.”

Earlier this year, the Vaughans’ story caught the attention of Community Heart Watch, a committee of local healthcare providers, educators, first responders and civic leaders whose mission is to improve sudden cardiac arrest survival rates throughout southeastern Ohio. When the group learned that both father and son live with the same heart condition, they gifted the family an automated external defibrillator (AED), which is a medical device that can analyze the heart’s rhythm and, if necessary, deliver an electrical shock to help the heart re-establish an effective rhythm.

For Andrew, this is the second time Community Heart Watch has made an impact on his life. The first was in 2013, when Andrew was a student at Lancaster High School. At the time, Community Heart Watch was working with the district to make it more heart safe by providing CPR training and improving AED accessibility.

“The district and Community Heart Watch didn’t know it at the time, but they were doing that training for me,” Andrew said. “Someone thought it would be a good idea for people to be prepared for a cardiac arrest situation, and that preparation ended up saving my life.”

In 2013, Lancaster City Schools was one of the first districts to push for all of its facilities to become “heart safe” through Community Heart Watch’s Heart Safe Accreditation program, which gives staff the tools to respond quickly to cardiac emergencies through AED placement, training, education and emergency drills.

Sarah McGraw-Thimmes, the district health coordinator for Lancaster City Schools, said sudden cardiac arrest is the No. 1 cause of death on school campuses.

“Schools are required to complete fire, tornado and active shooter drills – all of which are very important – but we have the data that illustrates that medical emergencies, such as sudden cardiac arrest, are much more likely to occur,” said Sarah, who serves on the Community Heart Watch Committee as its School Chairperson. “Therefore, it is vital that everyone know how to respond.”

The district was in the midst of its accreditation process in 2013 when students and staff learned just how valuable the program would be. One afternoon, Sarah received a call that a student at the Stanbery Campus had gone into cardiac arrest during his criminal science class. Sarah was informed that the instructor, Jeff Eversole, and his students had responded exactly as they should by calling 911, performing CPR and using an AED on the student.

That student was Andrew.

“We were doing our daily physical training, which included a mile and half run that we had to complete in a certain amount of time,” Andrew said. “It wasn’t something out of the norm for me.”

Andrew recalls taking one lap around the school without incident. But on the second lap, his world suddenly went dark.

Jeff said he and the students initially thought Andrew was having a seizure. Jeff checked Andrew’s pulse, then began CPR and mouth- to-mouth resuscitation while student Alex Fowler applied the AED pads on Andrew’s chest. Students Hannah Craiglow Runyon, Jake Ferris and Aaron Kocher also assisted in the response by notifying staff to call an ambulance while providing comfort to Andrew. It took four minutes to restore Andrew’s heartbeat.

Andrew Vaughan, surrounded by his wife, Taylor Vaughan, and their children, Ryder Vaughan and Lia Burgess, look at the AED that was donated by Community Heart Watch.

“Because of the actions of these students, Andrew’s life was saved,” Jeff said.

Andrew was transported to FMC, then underwent a week’s worth of testing at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Th data from the AED that had been used on Andrew was transmitted to OSU and was instrumental in helping Andrew’s providers make a diagnosis of catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT), a genetic heart condition.

The diagnosis came as a surprise to Andrew and his family.

“As a child, I had been diagnosed with epilepsy because I would have fainting spells and had exhibited other characteristics
of epilepsy,” Andrew said. “It was a shock to learn that it was something else entirely that had been causing those issues, but I’m very grateful that they were able to figure it out. Unfortunately, it took a cardiac arrest for that diagnosis to happen.”

Andrew’s life abruptly changed following his diagnosis. He had surgery to implant a pacemaker defibrillator, and he was no longer able to play sports or pursue a career in law enforcement.

Andrew Vaughn with family and AED“Being told that you can’t do normal 16-year-old things was hard on me,” Andrew said. “I’m a pretty strong-willed person. I still did a lot of things I shouldn’t have, and that defibrillator has saved my life a few times.”

Andrew said meeting his wife at 19 is what influenced him to start making better lifestyle choices. As the couple discussed starting a family, Andrew knew there was a 50 percent chance he could pass on his heart condition to his children.

“I knew it, but I still wasn’t prepared when it actually happened,” Andrew said of Ryder’s diagnosis. “Luckily, Ryder has been completely asymptomatic so far. I find comfort in knowing that I’m well prepared, especially now. What Community Heart Watch did by giving us that AED – I don’t have words for the peace of mind that gives our family.”

Teri Watson, community outreach coordinator at FMC, is a member of Community Heart Watch and was instrumental in acquiring an AED for the Vaughan family. She said Community Heart Watch has helped place more than 300 AEDs in the community through grants and discounted pricing since 2011.

“These AEDs have saved lives like Andrew’s, so we are especially thrilled to be able to help the Vaughan family,” Teri said.

Andrew said he encourages other schools and businesses in the area to undergo the training through Community Heart Watch that gave his teacher and classmates the tools and knowledge they needed to be able to save his life.

“I will never be able to explain how or why the stars aligned in my favor, but they did,” Andrew said. “For a long time, it was something that I didn’t really talk about at all because it was hard to talk about. But I hope my teacher and classmates can feel my gratitude. I just try to spread as much of my love and passion as I can around to the people that I’m involved with every day so I can somehow pay back that appreciation.”

Use these links to learn more about Fairfield Medical Center’s Heart Care and Community Heart Watch.