Van Buren becomes first county in state with every school ‘Heart Safe’ certified

Posted at 11:23 PM, Jun 03, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-03 23:23:25-04

VAN BUREN COUNTY, Mich. -- As an increasing number of young people continue to suffer from sudden cardiac arrest incidents from heart issues, an increasing number of schools across West Michigan are taking steps to be prepared.

Several student athletes from West Michigan have died in recent years 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.

Van Buren County is now the first in the entire state with every school in every district 'Heart Safe' certified. School officials said the investment in training is already paying off following an incident involving a Bloomingdale High School student who was revived by staff who had recently been certified 'Heart Safe.'

Brianna Baham, who graduated this spring from Bloomingdale, said she was in class this past February when she felt sick. Moments later she lost consciousness until staff members were able to perform CPR and revive her.

“I remember waking up and my dad being  there," Baham said. “It scared me, not knowing what was going on or if it was going to happen again.”

But  Baham said it did happen again, just this past April. She was again in class when she lost consciousness and blacked out. The same staff members were able to successfully perform CPR before medics arrived.

Baham told FOX 17 that her doctors are unsure what caused the incidents, but said there is a slight chase her heart might have stopped causing her to lose consciousness. She said she's grateful staff members at the school were trained how to properly respond.

I think it’s a really good idea," she said. "It could be a life saver to any kid because you never know what could happen."

Baham's father, John, said knowing teachers in the school are trained to properly administer CPR and use the automatic external defibrillator machines offers piece of mind.

“You hear all the time some of the stuff before that used to happen in the school, especially with athletes, and now these guys have the training to be there with them," he said. "If it saves one life it’s worth it.”

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.

“To know that Brianna was saved by the actions of a school staff member who was trained through our 'Heart Safe' program is amazing," said Gary Brown, chief safety and compliance officer with Van Buren ISD.

A $30,000 donation from the Covert Generating Plant covered all of the costs for Van Buren County to certify every school.

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.

“Sudden cardiac arrests of the young is on the rise," Brown said. "There’s about 350 per year in the state of Michigan, and where do our kids spend most of our days? The answer is at school.”

Brown said they'd like to raise more money to take the program to other counties, like Cass or Allegan. He said he'd also wants to ensure every Van Buren County school has enough AEDs for every sports team to have one at every practice, but that will ultimately require private donations.

See the complete list of 'Heart Safe' certified schools in Michigan here.