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Defibrillators Get to Heart of the Matter


Sitting in a golf cart, packed away in a case surrounded by medical supplies, is a device Anaheim High football Coach Ben Haley hopes he never has to use.

It's an automated external defibrillator (AED), used in medical emergencies to deliver potentially lifesaving electric shock waves to the heart.

The ability to operate an AED machine recently became one of Haley's job requirements, but the veteran of nearly 30 years of coaching isn't complaining. "I'd rather have it and not have to use it than be in a situation where [I] need it and don't have it," he said.

Last year, schools in the Anaheim Union High School District were among the first in Southern California to purchase AEDs for their high school campuses. This fall, the Los Angeles Unified and Santa Barbara school districts have followed suit, drawn by hopes the machines might save students, teachers and sports fans stricken by heart problems.

The LAUSD, among the nation's largest public school systems, plans to have at least one defibrillator on each of its 49 high school campuses by the end of this year. That's the first phase of a long-term plan for district-wide accessibility.

The high schools are getting the units first because of the large crowds drawn to some athletic events, a district official said.

The district purchased 60 machines last year at a cost of $168,000.

"If we can save one child's life, or one adult's life, then it's worth every penny," said Barbara Fiege, director of athletics for the district.

A portable AED is a miniature version of machines found in hospitals, a computerized monitoring device with palm-sized electrode chest pads to deliver the shock. It is used to stop, restart, then regulate the heart in the event of ventricular fibrillation, a chaotic or disorganized heart rhythm that could lead to cardiac arrest.

"It's kind of like rebooting your computer," said Bob Gayou, an emergency room physician at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and a member of the Santa Barbara chapter of the American Heart Assn., which has been providing some of the training to school personnel.

The units are so easy to use, said Terry Elledge, girls' athletic director at Harvard-Westlake High, that they are "sort of idiot-proof."

Voice instruction and visual prompts from a built-in, miniature screen guide users through the process. Among the directives:

"Analyzing heart rhythm; do not touch the patient."

"Shock advised." Or, "No shock advised."

"Stay clear of patient."

"Deliver shock now."

The machine is designed to offer instruction because, "In those kind of situations people sometimes can freak out, and the simplest things, people still forget," said Ben Cardona, athletic trainer at North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake. "When somebody may be dying in front of you, that little prompt is exactly what you need."

The LAUSD's units are being distributed as training takes place on each of the campuses. So far, nurses, athletic directors, selected administrators and all coaches at 13 district high schools have been trained.

In Santa Barbara, defibrillators will soon be available at Dos Pueblos, San Marcos and Santa Barbara highs in the first phase of a three-year program that is expected to include seven other high schools.

Each of the Anaheim district's nine high schools had one machine last year, and this year will have two--one of them specifically designated for athletics. Among private schools, Harvard-Westlake, Los Angeles Cathedral, West Hills Chaminade, North Hollywood Campbell Hall and Pasadena Poly have, or soon will have, the laptop-sized units.

Southern California schools are following New York's lead in bringing defibrillators to campuses. New York earlier this week became the first state with a law requiring each public school to have an AED and trained staff members available at all athletic events.

The legislation was inspired by the death of 14-year-old Louis Acompora, a Northport High lacrosse player, at a match in 2000.

For local coaches, it is another responsibility--but a welcomed one. Said Garfield football Coach Lorenzo Hernandez: "It's something that's another tool in your first-aid toolbox."

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