By Kimberly Pohl
An animated Rich Keller recently stood at third base on a beautiful spring afternoon, his hands delivering a series of signals that let his batter know she should lay down a bunt.
No one would ever guess that Schaumburg High School’s freshman softball coach had collapsed — just one month earlier — at that very spot on the team’s home field.
“The girls thought I was just messing around, laying on the ground trying to sun myself or something,” Keller, 63, recalled. “Turns out, I was in trouble.”
And a nearby automatic external defibrillator saved him.
From a referee who collapsed 18 months ago at a Round Lake High School basketball game to a Glenbard South High School cross country coach who slumped over after speaking at a 2001 pep rally for his state champion team, several suburban residents have benefited from AEDs at schools.
A Daily Herald and ABC 7 investigation found that local high school districts, unlike Chicago Public Schools, are complying with a state statute that requires that AEDs be accessible during school-sponsored events and activities.
Fortunately Lake Zurich’s Keller, a lot went right in the crucial moments after an often fatal ventricular fibrillation caused his cardiac arrest.
There was Joe Boshold, the alert parent who raced from the stands to start chest compressions. There also was Kelly Wika, the Schaumburg High School athletic trainer stationed nearby.
And, perhaps most importantly, there was the quickly accessible automatic external defibrillator.
With it located just steps away at the adjacent varsity girls softball field, Wika grabbed the portable device, ran back and gave the unconscious and pulseless Keller two shocks that stabilized him and bought time until paramedics arrived.
Keller’s doctor told him he was among only 5 percent of patients who survive such an episode. And of those who live, only 20 percent have no debilitating effects afterward.
“The whole thing is kind of miraclelike because 12 days later, my grandson was born,” Keller said. “I couldn’t help but think I almost didn’t meet him.”
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, schools must house an AED in a building located within 300 feet of an outdoor facility. If there’s no building within that distance, a supervisor must ensure that an AED is available nearby. Schools also must have a trained AED user available during activities.
Most schools have put even more safeguards into place.
Benet Academy in Lisle, for example, has six AEDs, while Metea Valley High School in Aurora has three housed within internal athletic areas and another five portable AEDs for use outdoors.
And though school districts could be in compliance by identifying only trainers and perhaps coaches as AED users, most school districts go far beyond that. Such is the case in Northwest Suburban High School District 214, where about 970 people are trained in using AEDs districtwide. At West Chicago Community High School, the physical education staff conducts annual training for all staff.
“You probably could use one if you haven’t been trained,” Wheaton North girls soccer coach Tim McEvilly said. “(But) the benefit of being trained is recognizing to be calm during those moments, to know ... where are they located so we can get them to the victim as soon as possible.”
The benefits can’t be overstated, said registered nurse Sharon Esterquest, the emergency department clinical educator at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights.
Esterquest said the survival rate for a person in cardiac arrest falls 5 percent for every minute an AED isn’t used. The device also improves the chances of surviving with intact neurological function.
And while it’s ideal for someone to be trained in both AED use and CPR, she said AEDs have clear instructions from voice commands to pictures showing where on the body to apply the pads.
“It even tells you when not to touch the patient and exactly when a shock will be delivered,” Esterquest said. “It’s greatly beneficial to have one around.”
The devices can be expensive, however, at $1,500 to $2,000 apiece, the American Heart Association said. That, combined with the cost of having trained personnel on-hand, led to state officials exempting park districts from having to have AEDs at outdoor facilities.
“For us to have an AED on 40 park sites where we have fields and have trained people on site would just be so cost-prohibitive, we probably couldn’t afford to run the actual programs,” Palatine Park District Executive Director Mike Clark said.