The thumping of our own hearts usually goes unnoticed - until something goes wrong.

According to Dr. Joe Priest, director of human performance laboratory at Tarleton State University, heart disease has reached epidemic proportions in the United States.

Thirteen students in Priest’s class intend to make a difference in cardiac care and recently participated in the American Heart Association National Certification Advanced Cardiac Life Support course.

“The students are usually seniors that have finished their course work and are exercise and sports studies majors,” Priest said. “They are entering careers in hospitals, clinics, cardiac rehab facilities, or other fitness facilities.”

The students participated in a written examination as well as mega-code, which according to Priest means each student serves as a team leader calling life saving directions for a cardiac patient. The team demonstrates skills in saving an unconscious patient with cardiac distress. Technically, they bring back the dead.

“The team must demonstrate skills to pass not only in basic life support but also understand drug administration,” Priest said.

Priest said most of the students are headed to graduate schools and are becoming allied health professionals.

“Several (students) are to be employed in the Harris Hospital systems as consultants in cardiology and one will be attending East Strasburg Pennsylvania University to become a clinical physiologist. Others will work for other companies that provide cardio-pulmonary stress testing,” he said. “They will work to identify in a-symptomatic people the presence of heart disease, all driven by the fact that one out of 2.2 people die of a heart related disease.”

Priest said the current practice is to wait for symptoms to appear before treating the problem, which becomes expensive. The new allied health world is developing in order to identify heart and lung disease as a preventative measure.

“Allied health is all about non-invasive and inexpensive ways to discover the presence of heart disease in communities,” Priest said. “The allied world is growing so fast. It’s not about medicine — the goal is to identify before the person becomes a clinical issue. An inexpensive but effective treatment that will be available to more people.”

When a person in Priest’s program is identified with heart or lung disease then the person is referred to Dr. Ramachandran, a cardiologist with her own clinic located on the south loop,” Priest said.

“We’re so lucky to have her here,” Priest said. “She practices nuclear cardiology and others - nobody has that available to them in a small town.”

Priest said this is the first class to reach this level and he hopes to make the course a routine practice of the department.