April 8, 2010

School gets defibrillators

GARDINER -- A fire association has donated two devices that jump-start hearts and prevent sudden cardiac deaths.

click image to enlarge

SHOCKING: Gardiner Fire Department paramedic Pat Saucier, right, shows Gardiner schools technology technician Michael Johnson how to maintain a cardiac defibrillator Wednesday, at the high school. The city’s firefighters union donated two automatic defibrillators.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Rich Kindelan, president of the IAFF Local 2303 Gardiner Professional Firefighters, said his union raised $2,000 with aid from businesses and individuals to buy two cardiac defibrillators for Gardiner Area High School.

The powerful shock it delivers to the heart muscle is the only means of reviving cardiac-arrest victims whose hearts have gone into ventricular fibrillation -- a condition in which the heartbeat suddenly becomes chaotic.

"We bought a mobile one in a hard case for the athletic trainer to take to football games or on the road, and purchased another one that stays at the school in the main office," Kindelan said Wednesday. "If someone suffers a sudden cardiac arrest, these machines could potentially save their life. (Cardiac arrests are) becoming more prevalent in schools. You read all the time about kids in track or football dropping dead from a congenital defect."

Kindelan said the association purchased an "alarm" case for the defibrillator at the school; an alarm will sound if someone tampers with the case.

High School Principal Chad Kempton said he honestly wouldn't know where the school would have found with the money to purchase the defibrillators without the fire association.

"We are very appreciative of them thinking of us and raising the funds to pay for these two defibrillators," Kempton said. "We haven't had a situation when we needed to use one. But -- knock on wood -- the thing is, you never know when a situation will arise. To have one readily available here in the school or at a sporting event is worth its weight in gold. It certainly will make a difference between a potential life and death situation."

Cardiovascular disease accounts for 33 percent of Maine deaths, making it the leading cause of death in the state. In the United States as a whole, about 335,000 people die annually of coronary heart disease without being hospitalized or admitted to an emergency room, according to the Maine Cardiovascular Health Program.

Most of these are sudden deaths caused by cardiac arrest. The victim may or may not have diagnosed heart disease. The time and mode of death are unexpected. It occurs within minutes after symptoms appear.

Kindelan said this is the first defibrillator for the high school. The association donated a defibrillator to the junior high school about three years ago.

A number of states, including Maine, have enacted legislation that require defibrillators in school facilities.

Maine lawmakers passed a bill in 2007 that requires a school administrative unit to equip every school building in its jurisdiction with a defibrillator.

Kindelan hailed the cardiac defibrillator as one of the most important life-saving inventions of the 20th century. Its process was invented by Mainer, Dr. Bernard Lown, of Lewiston, in the 1960s.

Lown, also a graduate of the University of Maine, is now professor of cardiology emeritus at Harvard School of Public Health.

Laurieann Milligan of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association, a national organization with an affiliate in western Maine, said her organization has handed out more than 50 defibrillators.

"We continue to encourage public gathering places, recreational clubs, nonprofit groups, doctors' offices, banks and more to be prepared for a sudden cardiac attack event," Milligan said. "The theory is no longer 'if it happens,' it is 'when it will happen.' "

Mechele Cooper -- 623-3811, ext. 408

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