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What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

How one local mom is spreading awareness to help others

Jodi Halem and her son Alek spoke everyday while he was away at college in Idaho, often multiple times a day, so when he didn’t respond to her texts and phone calls after speaking with him the morning of January 17, 2021, she became worried. The Thousand Oaks mom had a right to be concerned.

Later that evening, Alek’s roommates found him in his room. His heart had stopped. He was only 22 years old.

“He was honestly just the kindest, sweetest young man you’d ever meet,” says Jodi. “He was definitely an old soul. He was highly intelligent and would spend his free time researching everything.”

That morning, Alek did mention to his roommates that his chest was congested and he was going to see a doctor. In the past, he also complained about pain around his heart or that it felt like it was racing. Everyone thought it was just anxiety or stress. He was a young and apparently healthy young man.

“We came to find out it was sudden cardiac arrest,” she says. According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a life-threatening emergency that occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating.

“There sometimes is a genetic predisposition, and after he passed, we did extensive DNA testing on him and on us, but we have absolutely no answer as to why it happened and probably never will,” she says.

If parents know there's a family history of heart conditions or if their child is complaining of even the slightest symptom, Jodi encourages them to listen and do something about it. Take them to a doctor, and if the doctor doesn’t take it seriously, find another doctor. It doesn't necessarily have to be a child. It could be an adult. Be your and your child’s advocate. And, get them tested for hereditary cardiac conditions.

“I think there’s a misconception and misunderstanding of the differences between cardiac arrest and a heart attack. It’s important to know the differences.”

Her other advice is to learn CPR. While it wouldn’t have helped Alek since he was alone when his heart stopped, it can help many others. Jodi and her family recently hosted a free CPR event in October at the Yarrow Family YMCA in Westlake Village to honor her son and highlight Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month.

“They were nice enough to donate the space and we had a really great turnout and a lot of positive feedback. It was basically what they call sidewalk CPR or hands-only CPR. As long as you know the basics, you can actually save somebody's life.”

People are often hesitant to start CPR for fear of doing it wrong or hurting the person, but if the person’s heart is no longer beating, it’s their only hope until medical help arrives. And don’t delay–get started right away. The sooner CPR is initiated, the higher the chances of survival.

“It's better to do it than not,” says Jodi. “In the class, hosted by Safety Unlimited, they advised us not to worry about feeling for a pulse. If a person becomes nonresponsive, start CPR. And call 911 right away.”

The Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation states that SCA is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Approximately 356,000 people of all ages experience EMS-assessed out-of-hospital non-traumatic SCA each year and nine out of 10 victims die. When bystanders intervene immediately by giving CPR, survival rates double or triple.

If there’s an AED (automatic external defibrillator) available, even better. They are easy for the average person to use and increase the chances of survival astronomically. This is why it’s important to have AEDs in schools, shopping centers, offices and other places people gather.

Jodi currently has a Facebook page (Sudden Cardiac Arrest Loss) to spread the word about sudden cardiac arrest and is also hoping to one day start a nonprofit organization to address it.

“I've always wanted to do something to bring awareness, but it took a certain amount of time until I felt I could actually speak about it without completely breaking down,” she says.

While Alek’s death was a devastating blow to her family, she and her husband Elliott, 28-year-old son Josh, and 26-year-old daughter Tabitha are doing their best to move forward.

For more information, go to and to find a CPR class near you, contact the Red Cross.