ANN ARBOR, Mich. – It wasn’t part of a drill when high school sophomore Chris Fowler fell to one knee Oct. 9 during football practice at Lansing-area Ovid-Elsie High School.
His coach placed a hand on his shoulder just before the 16-year-old collapsed.
Fowler’s heart stopped beating, and what happened next is what all Michigan schools should be prepared to do for those who suffer sudden cardiac arrest -- on or off the playing field.
“It wasn’t hot, he wasn’t exerting himself. My daughter simply said ‘Chris fell,’ “ explained his mother Amy Fowler. “His coaches started to perform CPR, someone called 911, and the athletic director, driving a golf cart, got an AED from inside the school building.”
An AED, short for automated electronic defibrillator, is an easy-to-use device that can shock the heart into a normal rhythm. During CPR/AED Drill Week, Nov. 5-9, and Feb. 4-8, 2013, schools are encouraged to practice their readiness to respond to a cardiac emergency.
“Seemingly healthy students can suffer cardiac arrest,” says Monica Goble, M.D., a Lansing area University of Michigan Health System pediatric cardiologist. “Being ready to help with CPR and AED use can make a difference in preventing major brain damage and saving lives.”
CPR provides blood flow to the heart and brain and increases the likelihood that a shock delivered by an AED will get the heart beating again. The devices only work if they detect an abnormal or no heart rhythm.
Sudden cardiac death claims the lives of more than 300 Michigan children and adults under age 40 each year, according to the state health department.
Since December 1999, at least 51 Michigan students have died because of sudden cardiac arrest and related causes, which makes Chris' comeback extraordinary.
“I’m thankful they all knew what to do,” says Amy Fowler, who along with her husband David Fowler, a corrections officer trained in CPR, hopes to raise awareness about sudden cardiac arrest at schools.
Their son was taken to Sparrow Hospital in Lansing and then transferred to the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital Congenital Heart Center in Ann Arbor, where doctors implanted him with a heart device. He’s doing well although his football season ended early.
“Life’s not over for him,” the mother says of her active teenager. “He’s very smart, has friends who are supporting him. He’s getting more serious about golf.”
U-M experts support having AEDs available in schools and the training of coaches and other school personnel on use and maintenance of the devices. Yearly training in basic life support or CPR for coaches and trainers can help them respond as quickly as possible in an emergency.
Emergency response training programs have the added benefit of not only improving a school’s ability to respond to an emergency that occurs on the sports field but to any emergencies that occur on school property.
The Troy, Mich.-based Gillary Foundation, a non-profit that works to ensure every Michigan high school has at least one AED and staff members who are trained in CPR and AED use, provided an AED to Ovid-Elsie High School.
“Maintenance and accessibility are important,” says Goble, the pediatric specialist. “It not enough to have these devices in the school building. People have to know how to use them, they remain charged and can easily be reached, even during after-school events.”
Resources are available to learn more about sudden cardiac arrest preparedness:
Sudden Cardiac Death of the Young Surveillance and Prevention Project The Michigan Department of Community Health has gathered information about the burden and impact of sudden cardiac death from genetics to prevention.
Protecting Students and Student-Athletes from Sudden Cardiac Arrest The University of Michigan Health System provide information on the best course of action to combat sudden cardiac arrest. The Web site includes an educational video series sponsored by Mott Children’s Hospital and the U-M Cardiovascular Center on identifying students at risk for SCA and how to respond to cardiac arrest.
Photo by Greg DeRuiter used with permission from the Lansing State Journal.