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Melinda Kentfield lost her son Taylor to cardiac arrest on Sept. 10, 2013.

The 21-year-old junior at South Dakota State College had collapsed while jogging with two friends. One friend ran to call 911 while the other stayed with Taylor.

“He’d never been trained in CPR, so he didn’t recognize what to do,” said Kentfield, whose sorrow extends to the friend who felt powerless to help her son.

Several minutes passed before a police officer and then an off-duty paramedic arrived and initiated CPR. Emergency medical responders tried to shock Taylor’s heart back to a normal rhythm using an automated external defibrillator, but weren’t successful.

A lethal arrhythmia triggered by a congenital heart defect caused Taylor’s cardiac arrest. As a baby, Taylor was diagnosed with Noonan syndrome and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a relatively common heart defect in which the heart enlarges, disrupting its electrical signals and triggering an irregular heartbeat.

Growing up, Taylor was monitored closely. But outside of avoiding high school sports, he didn’t require medication to help control his heart rate until about a year before he died.

Taylor spent his life balancing physical activity with rest, Kentfield said, being careful not to overtax his heart. He had only recently started jogging as a way to stay healthy.

Cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death, with about 326,000 Americans having an emergency medical services-assessed cardiac arrest outside the hospital each year. Although bystander CPR can double or triple a person’s chance of survival, fewer than half receive it, according to the American Heart Association.

Most bystanders feel hesitant to act during a cardiac emergency because they don’t know how to administer CPR or they’re afraid of hurting the victim.


Melinda Kentfield and Taylor’s brother Riley met with Nebraska lawmakers about CPR training in schools.

Being an AHA volunteer and advocating for CPR training is a way to memorialize her son, said Kentfield, who is a member of AHA’s Nebraska advisory board and regularly volunteers at events, including organizing Team TK in honor of her son at last year’s Heart Walk in Lincoln.

With Taylor’s brother Riley, now 18, at her side, Kentfield recently met with Nebraska lawmakers and school officials in an effort to make CPR training part of high school graduation requirements.

Already, 24 states require students to learn CPR before high school graduation, ultimately resulting in more than 1.3 million graduates each year knowing how to perform CPR.

Kentfield hopes sharing Taylor’s story inspires others to learn more about heart health, support research efforts and learn CPR so that they may act in an emergency.

“You never know when you’ll have an opportunity to help save a life,” Kentfield said. “Even if you don’t do it perfectly, what you do could make a difference.”


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Photos courtesy of Melinda Kentfield