Culpepper’s Cardiac Foundation Making Defibrillators More Accessible in Winter Haven
by K. MICHELE TRICE
In the summer of 2020, Melanie Brown Culpepper found herself in a nightmare situation. She is now on a mission to help as many people as possible avoid a similar experience.
Florida had just allowed businesses to reopen following the Covid-19 lockdown, and Culpepper had reopened her salon, Melanie’s Cutting Edge in Winter Haven, which she began when she was 19 years old. Her fiancé, Michael Culpepper, was to have spent the day with her grandsons, but he wasn’t feeling well so she took her grandsons with her to the salon.
Upon arriving home that evening, with both grandsons asleep from the drive, Culpepper says she walked into the house to discover her fiancé unconscious. She immediately called 911 and spent the time waiting for the ambulance and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) trying to both calm her grandsons and save her fiancé.
Her fiancé did not survive the cardiac event. Heartbroken and gutted by grief, she still went through with their wedding and took his last name.
Culpepper says that she eventually requested a copy of the 911 call and listened to it over and again, trying to see if there was something more she could have done to save her fiancé.
“The thing I kept coming back to was the 911 operator asking if we had a defibrillator,” she says.
Defibrillators are devices that apply an electrical charge or current to the heart to restore a normal heartbeat. If the heart rhythm stops due to a cardiac arrest, also known as sudden cardiac arrest, a defibrillator may help it start beating again.
With that knowledge, she decided to do something proactive for others. She started Culpepper’s Cardiac Foundation in the hopes of saving others.
“You never know, it could be one of your own loved ones that you will be saving.”
She says she swore to keep Michael Culpepper’s name alive, and the Foundation allows her to do that. They have had several fundraising events, including a walk-a-thon and both a pool and a golf tournament. In addition, she teamed with Coro Med and Rescue 7 Inc. to get the defibrillators.
Six months after beginning the Foundation, Culpepper was able to place her first defibrillator. She just recently placed her 31st.
The first AED was given to Old Man Frank’s, where Michael had worked, and the second was at her salon. She wants to place them where there may be large groups of people who might need assistance, such as schools and the Auburndale Speedway.
In addition to requesting a copy of the 911 call, Culpepper inquired as to who the EMTs were who assisted her and Michael. When the ambulance arrived that day, the EMTs were wearing protective gear due to Covid, and she wasn’t able to recognize any of them. She would later discover she knew one of the EMTs, Eric Shimkus, from their mutual work with local nonprofits and charitable organizations.
Shimkus, a Winter Haven fireman, now volunteers with Culpepper Cardiac Foundation and accompanies Culpepper on deliveries of the defibrillators. He provides training on how to use the machines. At each demonstration, Shimkus and Culpepper encourage those in attendance to learn CPR.
Through the Foundation, Culpepper also awards three scholarships each year to those who are seeking a career as a first responder.
“I saw firsthand what they do, and that made such an impact on my life,” she says.
“I want to put AEDs everywhere in the community in the hopes of saving someone’s life,” Culpepper says. “I’d like to place them on every corner in every city block because we may end up being the first responders. You never know whose life you could be saving.”
Individuals interested in donating to the Culpepper Cardiac Foundation or placing a defibrillator at their place of business, school, or event space may get in touch with Culpepper at firstname.lastname@example.org.
She has an ongoing list of requests with the highest priority being those in her community. Those outside of Winter Haven may still apply, however.
To learn more about the Foundation, go to facebook.com/honoringculpepper.