LAWRENCE, Mich. — It's sudden, potentially deadly, and can often happen to individuals who have no idea they have a prior condition.
More than 400,000 people experience sudden cardiac arrest in the United States each year and it's a condition that's becoming more prevalent among young people too.
Several student athletes from West Michigan have died recently from sudden cardiac incidents, most recently 17-year-old Ryan Fischer of Grandville and Fennville basketball star Wes Leonard.
In 2013, about 9,500 cases of young people experiencing sudden cardiac arrest were reported by the American Heart Association.
Statistics like that are the very reason administrators at Van Buren Intermediate School District are training staff in schools and districts across the county there to become the first in the state to have each one of the 145 schools in the county receive a 'Heart Safe' designation.
The initiative is a partnership between the Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Department of Community Health and the American Heart Association as part of the Michigan Alliance for Prevention of Sudden Cardiac Death of the Young.
While most school buildings today have at least one Automatic External Defibrillator, or AED on hand, the goal of this initiative is to get more people in those buildings familiar with how to operate it, perform CPR and be able to respond to a possible life or death situation.
“We hold schools to a standard that says they are at the best preparation to take care of a cardiac arrest if that were to happen in their facilities," said Gary Brown, chief safety and compliance officer with Van Buren ISD.
Brown said the district set out on its ambitious goal to certify every school in the county after receiving a grant for an undisclosed amount of money from Covert Generating Plant. It's money put toward training, certification paperwork and buying AEDs that's really a no-brainer, according to Brown.
"We've seen where student cardiac arrest is on the rise and we want to be able to be prepared and provide them with the best medical treatment that they can have if a student goes into cardiac arrest to give them the best chance of survival," he said.
"The earlier we can start CPR and defibrillation, it actually gives the patient the best chance at survival, and literally seconds count."
On Wednesday, staff members with Van Buren ISD gave FOX 17 a demonstration of what a typical training session might entail, showing us how to operate the AED machines, and perform chest compressions on a mannequin to simulate CPR.
For a building to meet a 'Heart Safe' designation the following criteria must be met:
- A written cardiac emergency response plan must be reviewed annually.
- Must have a cardiac emergency response team with AED and CPR certification to respond to emergencies during school hours and after-school organized events.
- Requires at least 10% of staff, 50% of coaches and 50% of phys. ed. staff to be certified.
- Must have a sufficient number of AED machines available for use on site.
- Perform at least one cardiac emergency response drill each year.
- All athletic pre-participation screening must be completed with the MHSAA form.
Brown says the goal is to eventually branch out from Van Buren County and offer the training and certification classes to schools and districts in counties across West Michigan. A partnership with Kalmazoo RESA could be in the pipeline next, he said.
“If you look at number of students, staff members that figures about 20 percent of an entire community is in a school at any one time so that gives us again an increased chance of cardiac arrest," Brown said. "'Heart Safe' gives us the best chance at survival."
Currently, Van Buren ISD Behavioral Education Center in Bangor, Bert Goens Learning Center, Van Buren Technology Center, and VPISD Community Based Transition Center already have the designation.
Elsewhere in West Michigan, the following schools have already received the 'Heart Safe' designation:
- Allegan County - Fennville Elementary, Middle and High Schools
- Cass County - Cass City Elementary, Junior and Senior High School, Dowagiac Union High School
- Kent County - GR Innovation Central High School, Kent Career Technical Center, and Vocational Center, Cedar Springs High School