Every school should have an automated heart defibrillator (AED). These machines save lives; without them survival statistics are dismal. Up to 95% of people die when a heart stops and an AED device is not on site. In American schools, up to 9,000 students per year die due to sudden cardiac problems. Help must arrive within 5 minutes when a heart stops; often an ambulance does not arrive within that time frame. Survival rates drop dramatically for every second a stopped heart awaits the shock from an AED to bring it back to life. An AED costs $2,000 to $3,000. Every school should make purchasing these machines a priority. All states should have laws requiring the devices in schools. School physicals for athletes should also include an echocardiogram which could pinpoint heart ailments that may cause sudden death during physical activity.
One day after school I was trying to find my keys after signing out in the main office. As I looked up after finding my keys I noticed a portable heart defibrillator mounted on the wall right in front of me. The small red device had a heart printed on it and as I looked at it all I could think was “Isn’t it amazing that something so small could save a life.” The small, portable machine is easy to use and indeed actually announces aloud directions about how to use the machine during an emergency.
The sight of the portable defibrillator brought tears to my eyes. My Mother had some rare heart arrhythmias and her heart had an unfortunate habit of beating irregularly sometimes resulting in her passing out and requiring immediate medical care. When a heart “fibrillates” the beat becomes irregular and disorganized and the patient is unconscious, without a pulse. That never happened when she was with me (thank God). However, since she couldn’t legally drive anymore once the arrhythmia was diagnosed, I did spend a lot of time driving her around and anytime we went anywhere together I always took a moment as we were starting out to think about where the nearest hospital was in the area we were heading for.
A heart arrhythmia is very sudden. A relative told me one night over dinner at one moment they were conversing over spaghetti and the next her head was down on the kitchen table and she was unconscious. One day she told me “I don’t know what happened, I was gardening and then I came to and I was on the ground and the dog was licking my face.” Just hearing about these events was tremendously upsetting; I remain thankful I never saw it in person
She eventually had a defibrillator device implanted to keep her heart beating regularly. Sometimes it went off, which did get her heart beating again but sometimes caused her to become unconscious due to the shock and pain. This went on for years and I was lucky in some ways for I knew to appreciate every moment I had my Mother, for it was clear she wasn’t going to be around forever. Her ability to remain alive seemed a crapshoot of whether the medical attention she often needed would arrive soon enough. During the period when she was having frequent medical emergencies the hospital in her town closed (to save money); then the nearest hospital was further away on a very crowded road.
During that period I grew to hate the sound of a ringing phone, especially at odd hours. On one business trip to California when I was summoned home unexpectedly when she was hospitalized it wasn’t until I was at the airport to check in that I realized I’d left my luggage at the desk in the lobby. My nerves were a bit frayed and that flight from California back East was the longest of my life for I didn’t know if I would be arriving home to some very bad news.
The summer before I graduated from college was the start of her heart problems. She was quite young. The day she was first hospitalized I happened to be on a field trip at the Bronx Zoo with the day camp class I was tending in my summer job. I was totally unreachable and by the time I got home there was a note on top of other notes that said: Go to the hospital immediately.
So I know too well how the presence of a heart defibrillator in a school may be the difference between life and death. Sometimes a totally unexpected heart problem arises and if the ambulance does not arrive soon enough to shock the patient’s heart back into functioning again the patient may die. A portable defibrillator on site will literally be the difference between life and death. The little machine may sit on the wall unused for years, but that one day it is needed it will seem worth its cost and a million times over.
Every school should have heart defibrillators on site. Alas, very few schools have them. I was very surprised to see the machine that day and now every time I see the machine or the signs about it posted around the building it warms my heart.
Often heart arrhythmias appear without any warning. The first “symptom” may be sudden death. It is too often on the news that a student died unexpectedly during gym class or sports activity to a heart arrhythmia that was never diagnosed prior to death.
Thus having portable heart defibrillators in every school is an urgent necessity. Every school district should work to find funds in the budget to acquire the devices. Fund raising activities could raise the money; if parents knew the worth of the machines in times of crisis they would demand their child’s school have them.
Any time a child dies because of unexpected heart arrest and the failure to have a defibrillator machine in the school it is an epic tragedy. How horrific it must be to wait for the ambulance as a child lies on the ground with a heart that is not functioning, with life quickly seeping away and know that if a heart defibrillator was on site to shock the child’s heart back into action that child could remain alive. The technology is available to save lives; it is a tragedy if a child dies because a school district did not have the foresight to include an automated external defibrillator in their budget.
Take action; urge school districts to install defibrillators. Call your Senators and Congress and urge laws to mandate that every school have a defibrillator on site. Hold fund raisers to raise money to buy the devices for a school.