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There's new urgency to get AEDs in schools after Damar Hamlin's cardiac arrest

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Ever since Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed in the middle of an NFL game, automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, have been in the spotlight. After an AED helped save Hamlin's life on national TV, there's new urgency to get them in more places, especially schools, and to test them out. Blake Farmer of member station WPLN in Nashville reports.

BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: A handful of states already require public schools to have an. And here in Tennessee, they're also supposed to conduct a drill each year, though the rule is not enforced. Nashville's Shwab Elementary has had an AED on the wall for years, but this drill is a first.

CHERYL BOWMAN: The response team is needed in the hallway outside of the gym.

FARMER: Principal Cheryl Bowman tells everyone else over the intercom to shelter in place. If this were a real sudden cardiac arrest, they don't want young kids to see it all go down or get in the way of the paramedics. A dummy lies face down on the tile floor. A teacher sprints down the hallway and arrives within 30 seconds to start CPR compressions. Another teacher bolts up a flight of stairs from the office, toting the dictionary-sized AED and boots it up.

AUTOMATED VOICE: Begin by removing all clothing from the patient.

FARMER: This battery-powered device can shock a heart back to life, and it tells you precisely what to do.

AUTOMATED VOICE: Place pad exactly as shown in the picture. Press firmly to patient's bare skin.

FARMER: In the moment, there's some question about whether to use the adult pads or the child size. Word from the instructor is whichever's faster. Speed is key, and the machine won't hurt a patient. It senses if they need a shock or not.

AUTOMATED VOICE: No one should touch the patient. Shock advised.

FARMER: Teachers continue trading off with chest compressions as they wait for help to arrive. And the drill winds down after just 5 minutes.

ANGEL CARTER: Guys, good job. How do you feel?

FARMER: Nurse Angel Carter is here from Vanderbilt Children's Hospital to help conduct the school's inaugural drill. She helps school districts throughout the region draw up AED response plans. This team gave the first shock in time to be very effective.

CARTER: We've got 3 to 5 minutes to provide a good response. And paramedics rarely can be somewhere in 3 to 5 minutes. So it's up to us to take care of that person.

FARMER: All month, Carter says she's been fielding 20 emails a day, many from school administrators newly interested in setting up a drill. Nationwide, roughly 1 in 70 high schools a year will have a sudden cardiac arrest, according to a Washington University study. They're usually related to athletic events. But the AED used recently as millions watched an NFL game has increased awareness far more than any study, says Dr. English Flack. She's a regional medical director for Project ADAM, named for a teenager in Wisconsin who collapsed and died.

ENGLISH FLACK: The beautiful outcome of their response for Damar Hamlin is that his life was not only saved, but the awareness that it's created is going to just multiply exponentially.

FARMER: Since 1999, the nonprofit says AEDs at its partner sites, mostly schools, have saved more than 200 lives. Most states still don't require AEDs in schools. In Virginia, State Senator Jeremy McPike is renewing his proposal for a mandate. He says students in Virginia are already supposed to learn CPR and how to use an AED.

JEREMY MCPIKE: All that is already on the books except for the key ingredient, the most lifesaving ingredient, which is the AED.

FARMER: Even where AEDs are required, there's more to learn. At Shwab Elementary in Nashville, the drill reveals their machine probably needs to be stored on the second floor, where most students and teachers are during the day, putting an AED that much closer to the lives it may be used to save. For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Blake Farmer
Blake Farmer is WPLN's assistant news director, but he wears many hats - reporter, editor and host. He covers the Tennessee state capitol while also keeping an eye on Fort Campbell and business trends, frequently contributing to national programs. Born in Tennessee and educated in Texas, Blake has called Nashville home for most of his life.