Determined parents and new state laws are overcoming school officials' resistance to AEDs
- By Jerry Laws
- Nov 01, 2010
Slowly but surely, activism on the local
level and in statehouses is giving automated
external defibrillators a foothold inside
“The reports that we get in are about 12 to 15 kids lose their life
every day because of sudden cardiac arrest. In many states, mandates
are coming down requiring schools to have AEDs,” said Doug
Comstock, a Cardiac Science Corp. certified AED specialist who
lives in East Granby, Conn.
He said despite tight budgets, schools have continued to buy
automated external defibrillators this year, which Comstock credits
to two things: Liability concerns have diminished and AED prices
have fallen sharply in recent years.
Comstock said more than 40 percent of Connecticut’s schools
already were equipped with AEDs before Gov. Jodi Rell signed two
bills into law in June 2009 requiring the state’s school boards to have
an AED in each school in their jurisdiction if funding is available
and also extending Good Samaritan liability protection for AED
users. The key bill she signed, Senate Bill 981, was prompted by the
2007 sudden cardiac arrest death of Larry Pontbriant, 15, of Norwich,
Conn. A distance runner and lacrosse athlete, he collapsed
midway through a three-mile run with teammates, his parents, a
coach and others alongside, said Evelyn Pontbriant, his mother.
“He collapsed in front of us, halfway through, both my husband and I,” Pontbriant said. “We saw him struggling up the hill and he
collapsed, and that was it,” she said in an Aug. 10 phone interview.
“There was no AED there. People did CPR; his cross-country coach
of the high school team had finished the course, and he did CPR
on him. There was a nurse at our side. Our neighbors called 911.
By the time the ambulance got there, a lot of time had gone by, but
they did shock him with their AED. His heart did come back. He
never regained consciousness, and three days later, he died at Hartford
Children’s Hospital. So, unfortunately, we came to know the
hard way what it is not to have an AED on hand.”
Many people wanted to contribute money after Larry Pontbriant’s
death. The parents decided to establish the Larry Pontbriant
Athletic Safety Fund to place AEDs in schools and on schools’
athletic fields, she said. “The amount of money that came in for
this was just unbelievable. There were over 20 schools in Norwich,
and they all have AEDs now. The high school itself has nine. That’s
in addition to these other more than 20 schools.
“We’ve covered several other towns,” she said. “It’s over 60, 65
AEDs, and we should be able maybe to get in another 10 once the
[2010-2011] school year starts. The schools are really more than
schools—they’re community centers. And they’re used not just
during the school year, but during the summers, during evenings
for sporting events, and so on. So we thought that getting them
into schools would be a great place to start, and it seems to work
out well that way.”
The Pontbriants and their allies begin trying to persuade a district
or school to deploy AEDs by having a conversation with the
superintendent, athletic director, or principal.
“Very few places resisted, and even those people we did end up
winning over,” she said. “One group felt it’s a liability to have those
there. Others felt if our group could donate one or two and they
have 10 schools, how could they single out those other eight
schools? But we basically told them, ‘We have to start somewhere.
Take these one or two, and it’s a start.’"
Comstock noted fears involving the devices have not entirely
“There is still fear in terms of what an AED can and cannot do.
The reality is, the AED will only shock the victim,” he said. “We try
to tell people that when you use an AED, you can’t hurt the person,
you can only help them.”
The Larry Pontbriant Athletic Safety Fund also has distributed
AEDs to non-school sports organizations, including youth baseball
and lacrosse organizations. Seeing this, some young athletes’ parents
worried about the possibility of lawsuits, Evelyn Pontbriant
said. She said the liability question went unsolved until the American
Heart Association’s Connecticut branch, the Connecticut Athletic
Trainers Association, and other allied groups jointly pushed
for last year’s expansion of the state’s Good Samaritan law.
While there is no formal program to train students in Connecticut
schools to operate an AED, some students at the school Larry
Pontbriant attended, Norwich Free Academy, have been trained.
She said schools are relying on trained teams of employees, such as
administrators, teachers and nursing staff, to respond with an AED
Larry Pontbriant’s friends are doing their part in many ways, as
well. Some have organized an annual memorial run, raising
$13,500 in its first three years. A friend’s tennis tournaments have
raised $9,400 so far in three years. Sales of a cookbook generated
$3,700. A lacrosse tournament is being discussed.
The Connecticut Athletic Trainers Association is affiliated
with the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, which is based
in Dallas. NATA takes the position that every school should have
an accessible AED and an emergency action plan, said Judy
Pulice, NATA’s national manager of State Legislative and Regulatory
Pulice said she had no statistics for the number of U.S. schools
currently equipped with AEDs.
“There are pockets of them because parents have gotten busy
and raised money for them,” she said.
Schools, school boards, and school districts usually fight laws
intended to make them deploy AEDs because of the expense
involved, Pulice said.
Both Cardiac Science and the National Conference of State Legislatures
track state legislation about AEDs, including school
AEDs. Their tallies indicate Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois,
Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania,
South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia require at least some of
their schools to have AEDs. Wisconsin requires high school students
to be given AED training. A California law encourages all
public K-12 schools in the state to implement AED programs.
Timing an AED Response
Any school without one that experiences a student’s death from
sudden cardiac arrest can expect someday to face a plaintiff ’s lawyer
who compares spending by that school or district for band
instruments, a scoreboard, or some other item with the approximately
$1,500 cost of an AED, Comstock predicted.
“Again, one AED is the minimum,” he said. “It would require
many more to follow the American Heart Association guidelines”
recommending deployments that ensure no more than three minutes
will elapse between someone’s collapse and a rescuer’s arrival
with an AED in hand.
How much distance does that represent? When a school calculates
it, officials should not consider an elevator as part of the
response because that elevator may not always be available when
needed. In the same way, because a physically fit rescuer can’t be
assumed, school officials should not run while measuring the three
minutes of travel to and from the AED, he said.
“It’s probably not more than 500 feet,” he said. “It’s not very far.
“The beauty of a heart attack is, we frequently have time to respond,”
Comstock said. “The limitation that we have with cardiac arrest
don’t have that time. We have a 10-minute window to respond.”
Evelyn Pontbriant said the local public health department serving
Norwich recently filmed interviews with the Pontbriants, some
sudden cardiac arrest survivors, and family members of other SCA
victims. The interview footage will be used in a November 2010
public service announcement about AEDs and CPR, she said.
“The general population needs to know. Unless you’re aware of
it, you might not realize what’s happening,” she said. “Larry just
looked like a runner who was exhausted, only that wasn’t the
case. He was not breathing. No pulse, but his heart should have
“And you need to respond quickly. CPR is not going to bring
the heart back. You need to get a shock from an AED. People
need to know that. We just want to make sure people are aware
This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of Security Today.