The presence of a nearby automatic external defibrillator (AED) could mean the difference between life and death.
A defibrillator uses electrical energy – a shock – to clear up abnormal, life-threatening rhythms in the heart.
In an effort to provide that potential to save lives, the Warren County School District’s board of directors recently approved a motion to add six more AEDs to the district’s buildings.
The district already has eight; the six new ones would put one in each school building.
An AED can be used “any time an adult or student would have cardiac arrest,” Louise Tharp, the district’s nursing department head and Warren Area High School nurse, said.
“In a system that can be shocked, it should be shocked, the sooner the better,” she said.
An AED can help someone in cardiac arrest without the need to wait for emergency responders.
“We have the capability of initiating (shock) before the ambulance could arrive,” Tharp said. “You don’t want that delay.”
During school or at after-school events with lots of people around, it’s not hard to find someone who can operate an AED.
“Typically, now, when you take CPR, the AED is included,” Tharp said.
The devices have a screen where printed instructions appear. Those in the district also give step-by-step verbal instructions. “It’s pretty automated as far as telling you what to do,” she said.
There is no need for the operator to worry about administering an unnecessary shock, either.
“The AED will automatically determine if it’s a shockable rhythm once the patches are on,” Tharp said. “You would put it on just in case.”
If the problem is not in the heart, or in the heart but not appropriate for shock, the unit will not deliver a shock.
Tharp said AEDs cost from $1,600 to $2,000. It’s possible the school district would get a better price by buying several at the same time.
The school board approved up to $9,000 for the six new units. It’s possible the district would get seven if the total cost fell below that amount. The extra unit could go to the district office.
Tharp said the battery packs in the AEDs last about five years. The electrode pads can only be used once each. Each AED comes with extra pads, Tharp said.
The AED units can be used more than once and will last for many years. The units perform periodic self-checks and will indicate when the batteries are low.
The units weigh a little more than five pounds and are slightly bigger than an average lunchbox.
They are kept in small cabinets that are not locked, but have alarms that go off if the door is opened without the proper key.
The district already has adult AEDs in its high schools and middle schools. Warren Area Elementary Center (WAEC) also has one.
The elementary schools were lower priority buildings for AEDs because the existing equipment is not intended to be used on people who weigh less than 80 pounds.
Tharp said respiratory arrest is much more common than cardiac arrest in young children.
The AED at WAEC was justified by the frequent use of the school for a variety of after-school events, Tharp said.
The AEDs put in elementary schools would be dual purpose, working on both adults and children.
“Hopefully we never have to use them, but if the need would arise, you would definitely want one available,” Tharp said.
Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry
Students walk past the automatic external defibrillator (AED) in the Warren Area High School lobby. Money to buy enough defibrillators to have one in each of the district's schools is included in the preliminary budget.
Fact BoxWHERE TO FIND THEM NOW
By BRIAN FERRY
There are eight Warren County schools that already have automatic external defibrillators (AED).
The school district complied a list of its AEDs and their locations in March.
At Beaty Warren Middle School, the unit is in the front hall between the nurse’s office and the main office.
At Eisenhower Middle High School, there is an AED just outside the gymnasium.
Sheffield Area Middle High School has an AED on the wall in the cafeteria.
Warren Area Elementary Center’s is in the hallway outside the gymnasium and cafeteria.
There is an AED in the main lobby of Warren Area High School.
At Warren County Career Center, the AED is in the main lobby near the main entrance doors.
Youngsville Elementary Middle School has an AED outside the gym door.
Youngsville High School’s AED is on the wall outside the nurse’s office.
Schools that do not have AEDs, yet, are: Allegheny Valley Elementary School, Learning Enrichment Center, Russell Elementary School, Sheffield Elementary School, South Street Early Learning Center and Sugar Grove Elementary School.