Saving lives as easy as AED for local high schools
It can attack abruptly, often without warning. A high school basketball player suddenly drops to the hardwood. He loses consciousness, stops breathing normally and loses both his pulse and blood pressure.The athlete is experiencing cardiac arrest. Ultimate survival now becomes a race against the clock. It may come down to whether his school has an automatic external defibrillator. Marni Barton, head athletic trainer at Glenwood Springs High School, said she hopes she never witnesses a similar scene on Colorado’s playing fields but wants to be prepared regardless. After much discussion and a year of lobbying, the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation awarded Barton and the school a grant for a defibrillator on Nov. 28.The AVMF was so impressed with Barton’s proposal that it donated $15,000 to purchase five defibrillators for the valley’s high schools. “It is one of those things I hope I never use, but it pays for itself 10 times over if you use it once,” Barton said. “It is my job to keep kids safe.”An AED is an invaluable piece of equipment that works much like a Fisher-Price toy, AVMF development associate Ruth Minetree said. Once the defibrillator is on, audio prompts guide a user through each step of the process. Once the user places the defibrillator pads on the victim’s chest, the device will read the heart’s electronic impulses, determine if a shock is necessary and act accordingly. An estimated 250,000 people – one every two minutes -die each year from sudden cardiac arrest, according to the AVMF. Death rates could decrease considerably, by as many as 50,000 lives each year, if an AED had immediately re-established cardiac rhythm.There is little time to waste. Brain death – even death – can follow cardiac arrest within four to six minutes, according to the American Heart Association. A victim’s chances for survival decrease by 7 to 10 percent with each minute that passes.Barton, a nurse at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, has witnessed the devastating effects of sudden cardiac arrest firsthand. She was covering for a doctor specializing in cardiac rehabilitation when a patient lost his heart function. Had she or the hospital been ill-prepared, it might have cost the man his life.Cognizant of the potential liabilities that could follow a sudden death, Barton said she believed it was her responsibility to campaign for a defibrillator. She petitioned Valley View Hospital and local orthopedic associates with limited success. She received a lukewarm reception from the school board, which was not willing to amend the budget without further information, she said.Barton spoke briefly with the school’s booster club, which pledged to match any money she could raise. “Even it was just $500, it would be more than nothing,” she said.It was during a similar search for funding that members of the Roaring Fork High School faculty learned about the AVMF grants. When Barton first heard about the program, she figured it wouldn’t hurt to apply.The response she received was overwhelming.”We have helped some schools in the past by providing money for counseling, but this is a pretty unique situation,” said AVMF president and CEO Kristin Marsh, who claimed similar grants for AEDs had been approved for area ski mountains as well as police and other first responders. “If we feel something will enhance the health and well being of citizens in the valley, we won’t hesitate. When we saw this we thought ‘what a great investment.'” “You read about a few athletes who were working out for the football team and something happens,” she added. “These kids are 17, have never presented any symptoms, and often a physician is not looking for heart problems.”Marsh was so enamored with the idea that she took it upon herself to contact athletic directors at Colorado Rocky Mountain School, Roaring Fork, Basalt and Aspen to gauge their interest in the program. Judging by the enthusiastic response, Marsh said she knew the AVMF was doing the right thing.Aspen athletic director Carol Sams could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but did express excitement over the new developments. “We can’t wait to get ours,” Sams said in a press release. “We’re very appreciative of what the medical foundation has done and pleasantly surprised.”The defibrillators will be available for athletic events and in case other emergencies arise, Minetree said.”The AEDs will be available for a grandfather watching his grandson play basketball,” Minetree said. “This will make a difference in people’s lives.” The introduction of AEDs in high schools is a growing trend nationally. Legislation the Massachusetts Legislature introduced on Jan. 3, 2001, called for an AED requirement for all schools and facility events. New Jersey lawmakers appropriated $1.2 million to have defibrillators available in the state’s schools in January of 2002. Illinois appropriated $6 million for the purchase of AEDs one year later.New York state took it one step further. In collaboration with the American Heart Association on May 17, it announced a plan to require both cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillator instruction as part of high school health education was announced. Since the institution of a law in 2002 required all schools in New York to have defibrillators, they have helped revive 17 people on school properties, according to the AHA.Almost 95 percent of cardiac arrest victims die before reaching the hospital, but in cities where defibrillation is available within five to seven minutes, the survival rate can be as high as 49 percent, according to the AHA. Marsh said any cause that promises to save one life is worth pursuing. She said she is grateful she can contribute to such a cause; she is grateful for Barton’s persistence. “When the [school] district says it doesn’t have the funding for x, y and z, most people stop at that,” Barton said. “It took a creative person in Glenwood who had the foresight to say she was not going to take no for an answer. I’m glad she did.” Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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