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Schools Seeing Wisdom in Having Defibrillators

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 10, 2005; Page LZ04

Loudoun County has them. So does Fauquier. Now Fairfax County school officials are considering placing portable defibrillators, devices that could save the life of someone in cardiac arrest, in all schools and administration buildings, and training staff members to use them.

School officials said the district would need 580 Automated External Defibrillators, or AEDs, to ensure that one could be reached in minutes from any office, classroom or gymnasium should a student, staff member or visitor collapse without warning. The laptop-size device delivers a jolt of electricity that can restore a normal heartbeat.

School Board Member Stuart D. Gibson (Hunter Mill) said it makes sense to place the user-friendly devices in schools.

"We have people who would be alive today if we had AEDs," Gibson said. "They are very effective and safe when adults are trained to use them. It's a whole new generation of technology that can save lives."

AEDs have become increasingly common in public places in recent years. Arlington County schools also have AEDs, and the devices are available at the Fairfax County Government Center. AEDs also are often found in airports, stadiums and senior centers.

In Loudoun, the Sterling Rescue Squad funded two AEDs per high school. The School Board voted to install one at every middle and elementary school, and they have been in every school since August.

K. Anne Lewis, the school system's guidance and health supervisor, said that there are trained AED teams at every school and that the devices have been taken to the scene of several incidents since the school year began, though they have not in the end been needed. Discussions are underway about purchasing second devices for some larger elementary and middle schools.

"We're thrilled with this, and I really do believe they're critical," Lewis said.

At a work session last month, several Fairfax School Board members indicated they would support the policy; a vote is scheduled for Thursday. School officials said that it would cost about $957,000 to purchase the devices, at about $1,650 each and that they are still working to find funding. There would be additional costs for training and maintenance.

Sandy Canfield, a leading advocate of the policy who has lobbied school officials for more than a year, said an AED shock might have saved the life of her 15-year-old daughter, Danica, who went into cardiac arrest during a Robinson Secondary School crew practice in January 2002 and subsequently died. She wants to make sure the devices are available -- and that people know where to find them -- if another student or staff member ever needs one.

"If parents knew their schools were missing a $2,000 piece of equipment that would save a life, then they'd get them in a heartbeat," said Canfield, who is working with parents nationwide who advocate for AEDs in schools. "You'd rather have one and never need it than not have it."

According to the American Red Cross, sudden cardiac arrest strikes about 220,000 people in the United States each year, and only about 5 percent survive. Advocates say the quick use of an AED greatly increases the chances of survival.

In addition, the devices are easy to use and nearly foolproof. Voice commands guide a responder through the process. The devices analyze heart rhythms automatically and deliver a shock only if it's appropriate.

Like many victims of cardiac arrest, Danica Canfield suffered from a heart condition but did not know it, her mother said. The sophomore, described by friends as friendly and enthusiastic, had passed physicals and was active.

Robinson was the only Fairfax school that had an AED when Danica, a music lover who played violin and was learning guitar, collapsed, Canfield said. But Canfield, who happened to be at the school that day and rushed to her daughter's side, said nobody knew the machine was in the building, and no one retrieved it.

Two people immediately administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation as they waited for rescuers, Canfield said. But as she climbed into the ambulance with her daughter, she knew Danica would not survive.

"Most people think we'll call 911 and everything will be fine, but that's only if they get there in time," Canfield said.

Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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