Larry LaRue: Tacoma schools arming for sudden cardiac arrest

Thanks to $35,000 from a local group, Stadium High gets the first of 97 external defibrillators destined for Tacoma schools — devices that are ‘going to save lives’

Staff writerMay 30, 2014 


Ken Wilson, safety and environmental health manager of Tacoma Public Schools, puts in a new HeartShine Samaritan defibrillator at Stadium High School on Friday. The Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association’s local chapter is donating fixed defibrillators to all schools within the district.

LUI KIT WONG — Staff photographer

Stadium High School Principal Kevin Ikeda has never had a student struck by sudden cardiac arrest and hopes it never happens.

If it does, however, he and his school are more prepared today than ever.

The American Heart Association says the condition accounts for as many as 400,000 deaths a year in the United States — and 30 percent of all deaths of youths between the ages of 14 and 21.

Tacoma Public Schools knows those statistics, and so does the Tacoma-Pierce County chapter of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association.

Together, they were determined to prepare their campuses, and on Friday, the first of 97 automated external defibrillators — AEDs — was installed.

“This device is going to save lives,” Ikeda said.

Nobody knows if it would have saved the life of Kiki McBride, a 14-year-old Foss High School freshman who died of sudden cardiac arrest on Nov. 15, 2005. She collapsed during basketball tryouts at school and died that evening.

Kiki had participated in athletics and had a sports physical the morning she died — a sign of how unpredictable the condition can be.

Stadium is the first of the district’s eight high schools to receive an AED. By the end of June, those schools should get the remainder of the 31 devices the association has purchased.

“We began planning and fundraising for this day in 2011,” said association chapter leader Angela Taylor.

All told, they raised more than $35,000 for the project. The next round of fundraising will help them place defibrillators in middle and elementary schools.

“The goal from the beginning was to put AEDs in every school in the district,” Taylor said.

The reasoning is simple and practical. As many as half of the sudden cardiac death victims would likely survive if cardiopulmonary resuscitation and AEDs were used within the first five minutes of collapse.

Given that, the Tacoma Fire Department assigned a firefighter to walk the campus at Stadium and the other high schools to determine where the devices should be placed to minimize the time needed to reach them.

“We wanted to support the association in placing these devices where they’d do the most good,” Tacoma Fire Chief Jim Duggan said. “There will be five AEDs here at Stadium, and we wanted the best coverage.”

Josh Garcia, a deputy superintendent for the district, praised the nonprofit association for its approach to getting defibrillators into schools.

“They were relentless in this effort, and Angela has been the heartbeat of the effort,” Garcia said.

Taylor had a personal reason, as do many of the volunteers with the Sudden Cardiac Death Association.

“My nephew Tory passed away at 14, and I had my sons tested and learned that all three had Long QT syndrome, which can lead to a life-threatening heart arrhythmia,” she said. “I did a lot of research. So many people are dying of sudden cardiac arrest, I felt compelled to get involved.”

Another association member, Julie Birley, lost a son to the condition. And a third, Carol Mathewson, was stricken in 2008 while participating in a triathlon. Saved onsite by paramedics, Mathewson spent 23 days in the hospital — and now owns her own defibrillator.

Putting them in schools, however, was a more complicated process.

“Once you install them, you’re required by state regulations to have your staff trained to meet certain standards in the use of AEDs,” said Ken Wilson, the safety and environmental health manager at Tacoma Public Schools. “We had to determine the costs involved in maintenance.”

Aside from checking the AED battery each month — and if there are eventually 97 of them in the high schools, that takes time — there’s the cost of keeping the devices operational. Every four years, Wilson said, the battery and pads must be replaced, whether the machine has been used or not.

“The cost of that is about $150 per AED,” he said.

Voluntary training has already begun at Stadium.

“Before school opens next fall, there will be mandatory training,” Ikeda said. “If we need to use these, we’re going to be ready.”

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638

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