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ABCs of AEDs: School Defibrillators Save Lives

Published: August 29, 2009

As children across the country trek back to school this fall, parents, teachers, and coaches need to ask an important question: Where is the defibrillator?

Automated external defibrillators—AEDs for short—are designed to jump-start the heart in case of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Minutes count. And survival rates in public settings are dismally low. Fortunately, new research published in Circulation shows that equipping schools with the user-friendly devices helps prevent tragic deaths of students and others who fall victim to SCA on school grounds.

In the study of 1,710 U.S. high schools with at least one AED, nearly two-thirds of the SCA victims survived to hospital discharge, including nine of 14 student athletes and 14 of 22 teachers, coaches, visitors, and other adults (mean age 57).

In contrast, the overall survival rate of out-of-hospital SCA is less than 8 percent. Survival drops 7 percent to 10 percent for each minute defibrillation is delayed.

To implement a local AED program, study author Dr. Jonathan Drezner of the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues strongly encourage high schools to: 1) develop an emergency action plan for sudden cardiac arrest in collaboration with local EMS; 2) practice and review the plan at least once a year; and 3) post the plan at each athletic venue.

Budgetary issues are not the only concern when exploring school AED programs.

“The tragic death of an adolescent has a profound effect on the community,” said Dr. Dianne Atkins of the University of Iowa in an accompanying editorial, “and the desire to protect this population may outweigh financial considerations.”

Remember the ABCs of using AEDs to save a life:
A) Recognize a heart emergency;
B) Open the AED box; and
C) Follow the prompts.

To read about lives saved by school AEDs, and how to launch a local initiative, visit The Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association, The Louis J. Acompora Foundation, Parent Heart Watch, or Project Adam.

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