Ironically, the school had a defibrillator for life-threatening emergencies—but nobody knew how to use it.
And unfortunately, it’s far from the only time a student has died at a school which had such a life-saving device—but it wasn’t used. So the youth’s parents instigated “Project ADAM”—a nationwide effort aimed at preventing sudden cardiac death in schools
And, thanks partly to the fact that Gilmer High School nurse Hillary Harris trained local teachers in how to start basic CPR and use the school’s defibrillators, GHS has received recognition as a “Project ADAM Texas Heart-Safe School” from Cook Children’s Medical Center in Ft. Worth.
That’s no small feat, either. Mrs. Harris, a registered nurse, pointed out that only 39 Texas schools received the honor, and “we’re the only one anywhere near here.”
Lemel’s parents established their program because not all states required defibrillators in schools, said Mrs. Harris. But just two statistics show how critical it is that someone also know how to use the devices.
“We have had at least 63 students suffer sudden cardiac death in Texas schools since 2006, and most all of these schools had automated external defibrillators (AEDs) that were not used,” said Laura Friend, Project ADAM Texas Coordinator.
In fact, Mrs. Harris said, the woman who runs Project ADAM in Texas lost her daughter when the girl died at school of a heart-related illness—and nobody knew how to use the defibrillator which was there.
But the second statistic is a happier one—in Ms. Friend’s words, “We know for sure that this program (Project ADAM,which stands for Automated Defibrillators in Adam’s Memory) works, as we have had 33 students (who suffered cardiac arrest) saved in Texas schools since 2006.”
The 63 deaths “highlighted the importance of a quality sudden cardiac arrest program of awareness on the part of all adults who work in the schools, as well as more specific training for designated first responders and practice drills,” Ms. Friend wrote in a letter to Gilmer School Supt. Rick Albritton.
In Texas, said Mrs. Harris, the University Interscholastic League requires band directors, as well as athletic trainers and coaches, to be certified in using the devices. (It’s a misconception that sudden cardiac illness “happens only to athletes,” she explained.) But that leaves a lot of faculty members who aren’t required to have certification.
Back in August, before the school year began, Mrs. Harris polled Gilmer High teachers on how many knew how to use a defibrillator. Only one did, and he had been in the military.
So the school nurse (who is the daugher of former Congressman Max Sandlin) conducted a short “in-service” training exercise on how to start basic CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), and use the defibrillator in cases where students suffer seizures or faint.
“The response has been a hundred times better than it was last year,” Mrs. Harris said.
Through the American Heart Assn., she said, the school certified all coaches (as law requires), band directors, bus drivers, and maintenance personnel, as well as 18 students in the medical technology class Mrs. Harris teaches.
In her letter to Albritton, Ms. Friend wrote, “Nurse Hillary’s program, ‘Beats for Buckeyes’ is an EXCELLENT program, and all involved are to be congratulated. We are so impressed with Hillary’s willingness to make sure that anyone can save a life.”
The certificate of recognition received by Gilmer High says it was deemed a “Heart-Safe School” for “successful implementation of a quality sudden cardiac arrest program built on awareness, screening, training and effective emergency response.”
The school had to do a practice drill in October in order to receive the certificate, Mrs. Harris noted.
Gilmer ISD has nine federally-funded defibrillators scattered among its four campuses, including four at the high school, where nobody is more than two minutes away from one at any place on campus, the school nurse said. They are located in her office, the two gymnasiums, and at the career building.
GISD also has two defibrillators apiece at Bruce Junior High School and Gilmer Elementary School, and one at Gilmer Intermediate School. The district is trying to raise funds for one more at the Intermediate campus, and anyone wanting to donate may call 903-841-7505.
The devices here have not been used so far for cardiac problems, but may have been used by the athletic department for other reasons, Mrs. Harris said.
Gilmer ISD pays for maintenance of the devices, which were purchased seven years ago. Project ADAM will now pay to replace any parts used in an emergency.
In Dallas last April, a 12-year-old girl walking down a school hallway collapsed and was saved by a defibrillator, an event caught on camera, Mrs. Harris noted.
“We want to be those people,” she said. “I can just see this helping the entire community down the road.”