How a vital medical device could rescue thousands of young athletes
The numbers are alarming. Each year in the U.S., more than 3,000 youths — from first graders to high school seniors — suffer sudden cardiac arrest while at school. Among them, according to studies, more than two thirds are athletes, and of those, roughly 40 percent die before the ambulance even arrives.
Digging deeper into the statistics reveals a more disturbing trend among college athletes. The NCAA has found that the risk of a male athlete dying from sudden cardiac arrest is one in 38,000 (and one in 122,000 among female athletes).
All this adds up to a crisis.
While doctors explore ways to identify who among these athletes might be the most vulnerable, the call here is for a basic, critical step, from the Little League field to the college football field and beyond — that automatic external defibrillators always be on hand, and that all coaches and support staff be schooled on how to use them.
To Tina Charles, a star with the WNBA’s Liberty, it’s a common sense move that could rescue not only athletes but everyone. Sudden cardiac arrest claims the lives of roughly 325,000 adults in the U.S. each year.
Charles, inspired by an article she read about the 2013 death of a high school athlete, created the Hopey’s Heart Foundation, which is devoted to making the devices, known as AEDs, as commonplace as fire hydrants. Given that the contraptions are extinguishers of a kind — research suggests that defibrillators could save lives in about 70 percent of the cases — it’s a spot-on analogy.
More Needs To Be Done
The cause has been taken up in at least 20 state legislatures, which over the last few years have enacted a range of laws mandating that youth sports leagues always have AEDs at the ready. Earlier this year, the New York City Council voted to make the defibrillators available to all youth baseball leagues that hold games in any of the city parks. The law, which will cost the city $6 million over the next six years, will also dramatically expand training among coaches.
These are laudable steps, building upon previous actions that require AEDs in schools, airports, municipal buildings, stadiums and museums. And yet more needs to be done, not just in New York but across the country.
For starters, picking up on Tina Charles’ notion, AEDs should become an everyday sight. We endorse an idea that has sprung up in a few cities, to have them strategically placed, at ATMs, bus stops or coffee shops.
Also, it’s not enough to dictate their use only at city parks. The law should be extended to all organized leagues, including to softball games, as well as Pee Wee football, basketball and other sports.
And finally, all schools should make training students to use AEDs, along with CPR, standard practice, an action recommended by the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation. It’s a skill and awareness they can take with them into adulthood and worth the roughly $1,500 to $2,000 each device costs.
Think of it this way: No one working with children would let them play on unsafe playground equipment or attend a school that does not meet building codes. Certainly, the same caution should be embraced when it comes to helping children in the most desperate moments.
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