Heart Safe Project celebrates after reaching goal of defibrillators in all schools

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A group of parents, students, school administrators, first responders and community leaders met Friday afternoon on the Meadowdale High School athletic field to celebrate the realization of an important and life-saving goal: to place automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) in all Edmonds Public schools and community fields.

Spearheaded by the Heart of Edmonds School District, the Community Heart Safe Project and the Nick of Time Foundation, the effort was inspired by the sudden death in 2013 of Meadowdale High School student Matthew Truax, who collapsed and died from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) while participating in school athletic programs. His death was all the more tragic in that it might well have been prevented had an AED been available.

Every three days someone in the United States is stricken with SCA. While it can hit at any age, young people involved in athletics are particularly vulnerable.

Normally the heart’s internal pacemaker initiates each heartbeat with a single electrochemical “pulse” that travels over the heart like a wave. But in some people the pacemaker can emit two or more pulses. This condition typically shows no symptoms, but during intense exercise the multiple signals can confuse the heart muscle, causing it to “fibrillate” or flutter, and lose its ability to pump blood. Thus deprived of oxygen, brain damage occurs within three minutes. Within five minutes, 95 percent of SCA victims die.

Matthew’s mother Melinda Truax has spent the past 2 1/2 years tirelessly raising funds to help purchase and place AEDs in all Edmonds Public Schools.

“We needed about $100,000,” she said. “We had about $80,000 raised earlier this year, and began using it to place AEDs in our high schools. Then I got a call from the Hazel Miller Foundation informing me that they would provide the additional funds to complete the project. I was shocked, relieved and overjoyed at the same time. I got off the phone and just cried.”

Steve Apodaca chairs the Nick of Time Foundation Board of Directors. “This money has allowed us to purchase 80 AEDs,” he said. “Within the next two weeks we’ll place these in 36 schools throughout the District.”

While this is a major milestone, Apodaca is quick to point out that it’s not exactly “mission accomplished.”

“We now need to ensure that staff is trained on how to quickly recognize SCA, and how to combine the AED with CPR to save lives,” he said. “We have state laws on the books that mandate AED and CPR training for students, teachers, and volunteers who coach kids in sports. With the equipment now in place, we need to ensure that anyone who might be in a position to save a life knows exactly what to do.”

Of course the best approach would be to identify kids susceptible to SCA before it happens. A simple electrocardiogram (ECG) can detect the electrical abnormalities that can lead to SCA, but this test is not usually part of routine medical care that most kids receive. But some schools are moving ahead of the curve. The University of Washington now routinely administers this test to athletes, and others are looking at how it might be implemented.

“While it’s not a regular part of how we do things yet, we’re working to bring ECG testing to our public schools,” said Truax. “On Nov. 2 there will be a team at Kamiak High School doing free ECG testing for kids 14-24. You don’t have to be a student to take advantage of this. Just schedule an online appointment and show up.”

For details on the ECG screenings and to schedule your free appointment, go to the Nick of Time Foundation’s screening information page here.

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

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