Health Tips: The One Thing That Can Save Your Child’s Life

By Terry Gordon, MD

It is not often that something is placed before us, which defines in crystal-clear fashion, our purpose. The untimely death of a Barberton, Ohio, High-School football player provided that direction for me.

Josh Miller was 15 years old, a bright student and a wonderful young man. He had his entire life facing him when he collapsed on the football field one Friday night. In front of his teammates, in front of his friends, and sadly in front of his parents, Josh Miller died. He suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. Kids are not supposed to do that! It was sickening knowing that a simple device could have saved his life. An automated external defibrillator or AED was not available to those who tried so desperately to resuscitate Josh.

Every year over 300,000 Americans collapse from cardiac arrest. Sadly only three to five percent of those survive. The reason is simple. For every minute that one remains in the chaotic heart rhythm disturbance called ventricular fibrillation (VF), the chance of survival drops by 10 percent. Nationwide, the average response time for EMS is eight to 12 minutes.

If CPR is performed, survival can almost double to five to ten percent. Coupled with CPR, if an AED is used quickly, the survival can be as high as 50 percent. AEDs should be placed in schools as every day, 20 percent of the adult and child population are housed in our schools. Especially in settings, as schools are often used as community centers at night.

At the time of Josh’s death, I was the president of the Summit County American Heart Association, and I vowed this would never happen again in our community. We placed AEDs in all of our middle and high schools, becoming the first county of its size in the nation to do so. For that effort, I was named The American Heart Association’s National Physician of the year 2002.

Ultimately, our Ohio legislators were convinced to pass The State of Ohio School AED Initiative. A total of $5,000,000 was granted that placed 4,470 AEDs in schools K through 12 throughout Ohio. In each school, five individuals were trained in CPR and the use of AEDs; an emergency response template was offered as well. This became the first comprehensive statewide program of its kind in the nation. To date there have been at least 15 lives saved as a result of this initiative.

National legislation to place an AED in every single school in the nation, introduced as The Josh Miller HEARTS Act was mirrored after our Ohio School AED program. The bill was proposed by US Congresswoman Betty Sutton and first passed the US House of Representatives unanimously in June 2008. Proposed by then Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, it unfortunately did not make it through the HELP Committee in the US Senate, as Senator Kennedy was struck ill. It was proposed again and passed the House as HR 1380 in June 2009, and was proposed by Senators Sherrod Brown and George Voinovich but failed to emerge from the HELP Committee once again. The tragedy is that since the bill first passed the House in 2008, 206 children have needlessly died of sudden cardiac arrest in schools across America.

There is no greater feeling than helping to save a life—especially the life of a child. Passage of this life-saving bill will touch the lives of millions upon millions of Americans for years to come. As Martin Luther King said in his famous I Have a Dream speech, there is “ a fierce urgency of now.” We cannot allow such an injustice of nature to continue.

As it is written in the Torah and Koran: “If you can save one life, you can change the world.”