Importance of CPR/AED Awareness Week beats in heart of Scarlett Manelis

CANANDAIGUA — With sudden cardiac arrest ranked among the leading causes of death for people 40 and older in the U.S., it's no surprise that a week is set aside to raise awareness about the use of CPR and automated external defibrillators.

The week of June 1 is designated as CPR/AED Awareness Week with the hope of combating what can be described as a health crisis: According to the American Heart Association, in 2013 there were 362,000 individuals who experienced cardiac arrest in the nation.

Of that total, only 9,500 individuals younger than age 18, or approximately 3 percent, experienced sudden cardiac arrest.

That figure is what makes 4-year-old Scarlett Manelis' story unique — and her bond with members of the Canandaigua Emergency Squad everlasting.

On Aug. 23, 2013, friends and family were at the Manelis summer home in Canandaigua to celebrate the 6th birthday of Ella, the second oldest of three children of Josh and Catherine Manelis of Brighton, who was pregnant with child number four at the time of the birthday celebration. 

Josh Manelis recalls the day as being a beautiful one at their home on Sandy Beach Drive. Several children were running around the house during the event, including Ella and her two siblings, 4-year-old Cole and 2-year-old Scarlett. 

At one point, the adults at the gathering noticed that Scarlett was no longer with the group of romping children.

"The kids said that she had fallen down and couldn't get back up," Josh Manelis recalled. 

Immediately, a search for Scarlett began and ended when the 2-year-old was discovered unconscious on the home's front lawn. 

Looking back on the incident is difficult, and the details are hard to remember, but Josh Manelis said that 911 was called and he immediately began CPR on his daughter — a skill he took the time to learn.

Mike DePasquale was among the crew from the Canandaigua Emergency Squad who came to the home in response to a call of a 2-year-old choking. What they found was a girl who had gone into cardiac arrest and was clinically dead, DePasquale said. 

After taking the little girl from the arms of her father, emergency responders continued CPR and eventually found a heart rhythm. DePasquale proceeded to defibrillate Scarlett while squad Sgt. Bryon Campbell intubated the little girl. 

"We spent about 15 minutes on the scene in front of the home," DePasquale said.

After Scarlett was stabilized, she was moved to Thompson Hospital, and eventually to Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester. 

According to Josh Manelis, there it was determined that Scarlett was suffering from a cardiac arrhythmia condition called Catecholaminergic Polymorphic Ventricular Tachycardia or CPVT, a condition that is characterized by an abnormal heart rhythm. 

Aside from the shock of such a condition, a long road to recovery has followed for Scarlett — who, due to the length of time without oxygen after her heart's failure, sustained a severe brain injury. 

A little girl with a strong vocabulary and "a lot of spunk," Josh Manelis said, is currently relearning how to walk, talk and eat. 

"Nobody knows what the end is going to be given her age," he said. "We'll see. … We do one day at a time."

A couple days after treating her at the Sandy Beach Drive residence, DePasquale had the desire to check on Scarlett and went to Strong. 

"It's one of those cases that you really don't get too often," DePasquale said. "It's one of those cases that you train for in the hopes that you never have to do, but that if it does ever happen, you are prepared. I definitely wanted to follow up and see how she's doing."

After Scarlett was released from Strong, the Manelis family brought her to the Canandaigua ambulance service's headquarters so the responders could see the little girl's progress. 

"I think that's why most of us get involved — to have the opportunity to make a positive difference for somebody in a critical situation," DePasquale said. "Even though those are few and far in-between, it's these types of calls that is why we go through training and keep on doing the job." 

According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, the number of people who die each year from sudden cardiac arrest is roughly equivalent to the number of people who die from Alzheimer's disease, assault with firearms, breast cancer, cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes, HIV, house fires, motor vehicle accidents, prostate cancer and suicides combined. 

It is a condition that can be treated successfully with the proper training, and that's a big reason why Scarlett is still alive.

"It takes a community effort to be able to have these successful outcomes, and we encourage everybody to take a CPR class," said Canandaigua Emergency Squad Chief Ken Beers.

Those interested in signing up for a CPR class should visit canandaiguaes.org or call (585) 394-5860.

A foundation has been set up by the Manelis family in recognition of Scarlett's story, called the "Our Hearts Beat for Scarlett Foundation." To learn how to help and to see photos of Scarlett, visit ourheartsbeatforscarlett.org.