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Utah high schools not required to have defibrillators

Published December 13, 2012 1:58 pm

Athletics • The devices can save lives but aren't mandatory in Utah high schools.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Automated external defibrillators are the size of a laptop, cost an average of $2,500 and save lives.

When Utah State University basketball player Danny Berger collapsed during practice Dec. 4, assistant trainer Mike Williams used an AED to revive him.

Four days later, Berger walked out of the Intermountain Medical Center.

In Utah, the Jazz, Real Salt Lake, the Salt Lake Bees and every major university have AEDs available in case of a cardiac emergency involving athletes or fans.

Some high schools, however, aren't as well-equipped.

The Utah High School Activities Association does not have a policy mandating AEDs, according to assistant director Bart Thompson.

"It's something individual districts deal with," he said. "It's a district-by-district decision. ... We don't have a policy where we dictate to them."

Thompson "wouldn't hazard a guess" how many high schools don't have AEDs, but there are undoubtedly some.

At this point, he said, the UHSAA has acted only as a conduit between the districts and the manufacturers of the various brands of automated external defibrillators.

"We have put the districts into contact with the companies that provide them," Thompsom said. "... Those companies came to us — five or six years ago, maybe — and we have let the schools know they exist."

Even if only a handful of schools remain without AEDs, Jazz trainer Gary Briggs believes the number is too many.

A former chairman of the National Basketball Association Trainers Association, Briggs said "to have an athletic department and to have your students participating without access to an AED, that's like playing Russian roulette."

Briggs has been an NBA trainer for 31 years, including the past 13 in Utah. He started at the high-school level, however, and knows cost concerns can play into the decision-making process.

Briggs' solution?

"I would think," he said, "that every high school could have a fundraiser or get a donation from a local company to raise $2,500 and make an AED available at every sporting event. By not having one, you're just biding time until something happens."

The Jazz are well-prepared for a cardiac crisis. So are the state's largest universities.

During a Jazz home game, Briggs carries an automated external defibrillator. So does the attending ambulance crew. In addition, six AEDs are accessible throughout EnergySolutions Arena.

"The faster you get it on somebody," Briggs explained, "the likelihood you can save them increases tremendously."

According to Weber State University director of athletic communications Paul Grua, the school has placed four AEDs at Stewart Stadium, four at the Dee Events Center and three at Swanson Gym.

"We have one on each bench," Grua added, "and our trainers take one with them to every practice."

Briggs credits Paul Pepe, a Dallas doctor, for much of the NBA's emphasis for emergency cardiac care, which has become a focus in the past "five years, maybe 10."

Pepe helped persuade the administrators at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to make AEDs available to passengers and employees.

In the first year, the devices were used 10 times and nine lives were saved.

"Everybody in NBA, NFL, baseball and hockey has them," Briggs said. "Most colleges have them, too. And the airlines have started carrying them" on flights.

Why?

Because episodes like the one at Utah State can occur every day ... at any time ... any place.

"When a Danny Berger situation happens," Briggs said, "it makes it all worthwhile — whatever the cost." —

Automated external defibrillators

These devices, which analyze the heart's rhythm for any abnormalities, are about the size of a laptop computer. If necessary, a defibrillator instructs first responders how to deliver an electrical shock to the victim, which may help the heart re-establish an effective rhythm.

How does an AED work?

Voice prompts guide first responders. After the machine is turned on, they are instructed how to apply two electrodes to the victim's chest. The AED monitors the heart rhythm. If a "shockable" rhythm is detected, the AED charges itself and instructs first responders to stand clear and press the shock button.