AEDs in Schools

The Fear

Hundreds of miles apart, but eerily similar in circumstance, two individuals nearly lost their lives in unrelated incidents while at their educational institutions.  The first, taking place in October of 2015, involved a senior volleyball player in Loganville, Georgia.  In the midst of one of her team’s contests, with no advance warning to bystanders, the young woman simply dropped to the floor.  Immediate panic filled the room as family, friends, and staff attempted to figure out what was ailing the young student-athlete, and more importantly, how to save her life.

Just over two months later, over the Christmas break, the staff of Eighth Street Middle School in Tifton, Georgia, had gathered for a routine meeting.  Shortly into the meeting, however, one of the schools beloved educators collapsed to the floor.  Again, everyone in attendance knew something was wrong, and time was limited in finding a solution.

Paramedics were immediately dispatched in both situations, but in both instances, more than the quick response of witnesses, there was another major factor in the saving of these two lives: the presence of automated external defibrillators in each school.

The Device

Automated external defibrillators, also known simply as AEDs, are electronic portable devices that detect and diagnose cardiac arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats.  The device then is able to assist the person in need through a process known as defibrillation, in which a therapeutic dose of electrical current is sent to the heart in efforts to return the patient’s heartbeat to a normal state.

AEDs typically treat two main conditions: ventricular tachycardia (usually shortened to VT or V-Tach) and ventricular fibrillation.  Ventricular tachycardia is a rapid heartbeat that comes from improper electrical activity of the heart; it typically originates in the lower chambers of the heart, known as the ventricles, which are the main pumping chambers of the heart.  Because the ventricles are so vital to blood circulation, this condition can lead to a severe drop in blood pressure and, in some cases, sudden death.

Ventricular fibrillation, or V-Fib, is characterized by abnormal contractions of the cardiac muscles within the ventricles; this causes the ventricles to engage in a quivering motion rather than contracting as normal.  This condition is the most common found in those suffering from cardiac arrest.  V-Fib can fall into a much worse condition known as asystole, or flatlining, within a matter of seconds.  Symptoms of ventricular fibrillation include nausea, dizziness, sudden chest pain, and shortness of breath.

The Solution

According to cardiacscience.com, approximately 7,000 individuals are lost to sudden cardiac arrest.  A major reason for this tragic tally is that many school systems simply cannot afford to have doctors of medical personnel on hand at all times, and often by the time someone arrives to treat an emergency, it is unfortunately too late.

Another issue that is still prevalent is that many schools still do not have these devices present in their facilities.  According to various outlets, a single AED typically costs around $1,500; it is a tragic reality that many school systems, though arguably necessary, cannot afford the funding to equip all schools with these life-saving machines.

Project S.A.V.E., organized through the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta, has taken strides to educate doctors and school systems about the dangers of cardiac arrest.  In Tifton, the local hospital (Tift Regional Medical Center) has already begun raising funds and donating devices to area schools as part of its Heart Safe Community Program.  No matter the amount, any effort given to this tremendous advancement can ensure the safety of perhaps thousands of young lives.

Quick Facts About AEDs:

  • Defibrillation within three minutes of sudden cardiac arrest increases the chances of survival to 70 percent. Shock within one minute of collapse raises the survival rate to 90 percent.
  • Calling 911 is necessary but the wait for first responders may take too long. The average call-to-shock time in a typical community is nine minutes.
  • The sudden loss of heart function affects 600 to 1,000 children and adolescents, in addition to 350,000 adults, every year in the United States.
  • During the past five school years, at least 15 students and 12 adults have died from probable sudden cardiac arrest in Georgia schools.
  • Recent legislation throughout the country may require your school district or university to provide them.
  • Universities such as Notre Dame, Utah State, and others have successfully implemented AED programs and saved lives.

Health-Life / May-June 2016

AEDs: Saving Lives in a Heartbeat

By James Washington

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