Take heart, nearly all county schools have defibrillators

Marion County Emergency Medical Services director Darryl Thiesen knows cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, and that about a quarter of those victims die from sudden cardiac arrest before they even reach a hospital.

Thiesen also knows many of them could be saved if bystanders would act promptly to phone 911, begin cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and, and if trained to do so, provide defibrillation within the first few minutes of cardiac arrest.

That’s why Thiessen is so excited that two schools in the county have new automatic external defibrillators that just about anyone could use to restore a normal heartbeat and even save a life.

That makes four portable AEDs now located in four of the county’s five school districts-first Hillsboro and Peabody-Burns and now Marion-Florence and Goessel.

A grant from the Kansas Board of EMS provided the first public-access AED for Peabody-Burns last year, Thiesen said, and this year provided two more-one each for Marion and Goessel.

Hillsboro purchased its own last year, he added, and it shouldn’t be long before his department has one more to place at the Centre schools.

“We want to be one of the first counties in the state of Kansas to cover all of our school districts,” Thiesen said. “Centre is the last one, and we’re working very hard.”

At $1,495 apiece, each machine-called a ZOLL AED Plus-is more than a defibrillator. It’s a full-resuscitation device that uses voice and visual prompts to walk the rescuer step-by-step through checking responsiveness, summoning help, assessing the airway, breathing and circulation (ABC), giving CPR and then delivering defibrillating shocks as needed.

“We’re encouraging all of the schools-and anyone who purchases an AED-to purchase this machine,” Thiesen said.

“It is the neatest looking machine. From a design standpoint, this is my favorite machine out there on the market now.

“It doesn’t look like a piece of medical equipment, it looks like a Playskool toy,” he said about the neon-green device. “It looks like you should be able to pull a string and the cow says ‘Moo.'”

Like any AED, the machine automatically analyzes the victim’s heart rhythm and advises the rescuer whether a shock is needed to stop the heart momentarily and give it a chance to restore a normal beat.

But where other AEDs require the rescuer to properly place two electrode pads on the victim’s chest to deliver the shock, this AED features a one-piece, pre-connected electrode that also has a metronome to help the rescuer give the proper rate and depth of CPR compressions.

Thiesen said he took home the machine and had his untrained 11-year-old daughter try to use it properly on a mannequin.

“She did everything,” he said. “If an 11-year-old can do everything right, then I have no doubt that the public could, too.”

Still, training sessions have been held to familiarize school personnel with the process.

“We are making sure that everyone is trained on it,” he said. “But someone who was not trained could still use this.”

Thiesen said two cardiac arrest victims at Marion and Peabody school gymnasiums in recent years should be enough evidence that having these machines on hand is a necessary precaution.

“Both times, had these machines been in place, quite possibly we could have saved lives,” he said.

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