Building a Heart-Safe School

Building a Heart-Safe School

Why many schools have launched lifesaving sudden cardiac arrest program—and how yours can too.

“Schools touch lives,” says Debbie King, RN, school health services coordinator in Georgia’s Fayette County, on the outskirts of Atlanta. “We have more people moving through our buildings than any business in town.”

A school is the quintessential public place—teeming with students, staff, faculty, parents, grandparents and visitors arriving for plays and recitals, homecoming games and graduations, fairs and community meetings. And anywhere large numbers regularly congregate, there’s a chance someone will collapse from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), as upwards of a quarter of a million Americans do each year. That person will likely die unless there is a rescue plan in effect—which is exactly what public health experts recommend for such venues as shopping malls, sports stadiums, and, yes, schools.

Of the many public places that employ such plans, schools may offer the best opportunity for a good outcome: Washington state researchers found that 79 percent of cardiac arrests at schools were witnessed, compared with just 62 percent at other public locations.

King embraced the concept of SCA programs in 2003. “I’d been a nurse for 20 years and always believed people at schools should know CPR,” she recalls. “As soon as AEDs came on the market, I wanted one.” King reached out to a local physicians’ organization and the county’s EMS system, which donated the first AED units to the schools. Together they developed AED guidelines and policies to present to her school board. And soon, a first-rate SCA program was born.

Today, all of the Fayette County Public Schools’ nurses and their back-ups undergo CPR/AED training, along with one faculty person per grade and all phys-ed and health teachers. Coaches attend a first aid program, which includes CPR/AED use; the 250 bus drivers and 250 after-school staffers take a CPR course as well. As teacher’s assistants are hired, they, too, complete CPR training, as do all ninth-graders through their health class. And King isn’t finished: “My personal goal is to have a CPR-trained person in every classroom,” she says.

Mission & Vision

The mission of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) Foundation is to prevent death and disability from sudden cardiac arrest. The vision of the SCA Foundation is to increase awareness about sudden cardiac arrest and influence attitudinal and behavioral changes that will reduce mortality and morbidity from SCA.

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