American Heart Month: A father’s plea for student access to AEDs

Published: Feb. 17, 2022 at 11:33 AM EST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Just like the final buzzer or the roar of the crowd, an athlete’s heartbeat, accelerated yet steady, is a competition constant.

But far too often...

“She went into sudden cardiac arrest.”

Shawn Sima’s daughter Lexi was 16 when she collapsed on a treadmill in 2016. He says she’s alive today because of quick-thinking bystanders and her fortunate proximity to an automated external defibrillator, or AED.

“That night there was a miracle,” said Sima. “My daughter survived the most unsurvivable thing for anybody.”

According to data compiled by the heart-screening organization Who We Play For, sudden cardiac arrest strikes more than 7,000 young people each year. An estimated 90 percent of victims die because of a delay in emergency response.

“You have three to five minutes to do something,” said Sima. “The average ambulance response in the United States is seven to 14 minutes. You do the math.”

Sima wants every school and training field to have an AED, but the devices are costly. Not only must the devices be maintained, students and teachers must be trained in their use.

“I think it might take federal legislation to make sure it happens,” said Florida Rep. Al Lawson (D-Fla.)

Lawson reintroduced a bill that would create a federal program to put more devices in schools. Specifically, it would authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award grants to a local or private elementary or secondary school to create a program to promote student access to defibrillation.

Lawson says the measure was drafted in memory of Rafe Maccarone, a young Florida athlete who died of sudden cardiac arrest in 2007 on the goal line of a high school soccer field.

“There was an AED that was on the school grounds, but it was locked in the school office, so there was no access to it,” said Ralph Maccarone, Rafe’s father. “So [having] access to AEDs and having someone properly trained to utilize the AED could have saved my son’s life.”

Rafe’s friends, who are now in their thirties, spent the last 15 years raising awareness for sudden cardiac arrest. They developed the organization, Who We Play For.

With Ralph Maccarone’s help, they’ve inspired teams and communities to push for heart screenings and pass local CPR training laws.

Standing behind Lawson’s bill, Maccarone says they have more work to do.

“We’ve got to keep pushing forward,” said Maccarone. “Until we can get access to AEDS, CPR, and EKGs, we’re going to keep fighting.”

Lawson first introduced the Access to AEDs Act in 2019, but it did not receive a vote. He introduced the bipartisan legislation again this month.

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