Director Floris Italianer of the Dutch Heart Foundation


‘The more people sign up as volunteer, the better’


When the right help is always given within the first 6 minutes of a cardiac arrest, many more people can survive cardiac arrest. Neighborly assistance is essential. “The more people sign up as volunteer, the better,” says director Floris Italianer of the Dutch Heart Foundation.

Fewer deaths

The Dutch Heart Foundation is commited to recruiting neighborly assistants. For instance, the Heart Foundation draw attention for the importance of neighborly assistance and a good alert system. In over fifty years, the Heart Foundation has invested four hundred million euros to research, prevention and treatment methods. The result is a rigorous reduction in the number of deaths from cardiovascular disease: from one in two deaths in the sixties to one in four at this moment.

Healthy living

At the time of the establishment there was hardly anything known about the importance of healthy living: exercise, eat well and do not smoke. Thanks to the efforts of, among other doctors, researchers, education, governments and donors there are fewer people whom life changes dramatically from one moment to the other, because of a stroke, myocardial infarction or a cardiac arrest,” explains Italianer. Nor should be the result economically there. Research of the Erasmus University found out that every dollar invested produced a social profit of fourteen euros.

6 minute zone

For the next fifty years the ultimate goal is to get ‘all cardiovascular diseases out of the world.’ The Dutch Heart Foundation put this in four key points. One of them is the 6 minute zone: anyone outside the hospital with a cardiac arrest should be resuscitated as quickly as possible but at least within six minutes to make the chances of survival as high as possible. Italianer wants this goal not within fifty, but already within five years. “Neighborly assistance is essential hereby,” he says, referring to the importance it attaches to the cooperation with HeartsafeLiving. “For ambulances only have to be present within fifteen minutes legally.


Key point of the policy is also prevention. For example, smoking is bad for heart and blood vessels. The number of smokers has decreased significantly in recent decades. “But there are still too many smokers, even among young people,” says Italianer. Obesity among children and adolescents is increasing and in the eyes of the director a huge problem. That is why the Heart Foundation addresses many prevention in young people.


The third key point remains structural research. The fourth is ‘control over your own live’. Italianer explains: “The time the doctor decided on treatments, is behind us. Patients have, including through the Internet, more and more understanding and want a say in their treatment. The Dutch Heart Foundation provides individual guidance on questions, because we get about a twelve thousand calls per year.


Italianer wants also further focus on research using data from AEDs: “The defibrillators save all data. This data can make a major contribution, both in the treatment of an individual patient and collectively.” For example, in the ARREST-study led by cardiologist Ruud Koster. The AEDs can help to recognize patterns in for instance the causes of cardiac arrests.


Italianer finds that everyone who is a neighborly assistant must be able to be connected directly to an assistance system. Therefore, he cites the role of the parties like HeartsafeLiving ‘crucial’: “There are still some white spots in the Netherlands, regions with ambulance dispatch centers that still have not made a choice for an alert system. I think this is really worrisome. Therefore, we are in discussions with stakeholders. Based on these conversations, I am convinced that the result will be good.” The director of the Dutch Heart Foundation does not think that the government should require dispatch centers to participate in a neighborly assistance system: “HeartsafeLiving comes from concerned people themselves. That works much better than obligations imposed from above.

Dispatch centers

An important challenge for neighborly assistance organizations is, according to the Dutch Heart Foundation, free exchange of volunteers from different organizations. Therefore the different systems should communicate with each other. Italianer means is that volunteers of HeartsafeLiving also should be deployed in regions where the dispatch centers work with another alert system. “The use of volunteers should not be limited by geographic boundaries,” he says.

Neighborly assistants

He also sees points of profit in maximizing the flexibility of neighborly assistants in identifying the availability and location: “The ideal would be a complete GPS-based system where only the assistants get notified who actually are within an area of six minutes of the victim.” Italianer finds that neighborly assistants should be optimally prepared for their task, so they do not get stressed when they receive an alert. And after the provide of assistance they need to be guided in the right way. Also in this he sees a nice task for HeartsafeLiving: “Binding of and between volunteers ensures that they feel structurally involved.