2015-10-09 / Front Page

Town and school teams equipped to jumpstart hearts

RSU 21 grant nets schools five AED devices
By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


EMT Dean Auriemma, left, who volunteers with Kennebunkport Rescue and works per diem for Kennebunk Rescue, Kennebunk High School nurse Christine Guerin, and Kennebunk Fire Chief Jeffrey Rowe, pose with one of six automatic external defibrillators, valued at $6,000, recently awarded to RSU 21 from a MCD Public Health/Maine Cardiovascular Health Council grant spearheaded by Auriemma. (Duke Harrington photo) EMT Dean Auriemma, left, who volunteers with Kennebunkport Rescue and works per diem for Kennebunk Rescue, Kennebunk High School nurse Christine Guerin, and Kennebunk Fire Chief Jeffrey Rowe, pose with one of six automatic external defibrillators, valued at $6,000, recently awarded to RSU 21 from a MCD Public Health/Maine Cardiovascular Health Council grant spearheaded by Auriemma. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — In her office at Kennebunk High School, 25-year veteran school nurse Christine Guerin takes out a yellow, plastic machine.

It’s about the size and shape of a Speakand Spell and, with its built-in handle, actually looks like the old 1980s electronic toy. But when Guerin pushes the big, blue button on the unit’s face, instead of a Stephen Hawking-like voice sounding out words and syllables, a reassuring female voice calmly and confidently gives stepby step life saving instructions.

“Call for help.

“Remove pads from package in back of unit.

“Apply pads to patient’s bare chest, as shown.”

The machine is an AED, or Automated External Defibrillator, and thanks to a grant application filed by local EMT Dean Auriemma, RSU 21 now has five of the machines — valued at $6,000 — to augment its existing stock.

“These just strictly look for an unorganized cardiac rhythm that’s shockable, and if that’s seen through the device, then it applies a shock to reset the heart,” Kennebunk Fire Chief Jeffrey Rowe explained.

“It’s like the ba-boom thing you see on TV, with the paddles, and then the body jumps up, only you don’t jump up with this,” Guerin says.

Of the six new AED units, one, each, has gone to Kennebunk Elementary School, the Middle School of the Kennebunks, and the Sea Road School, while two were placed at Kennebunk High School, which got its first AED in 2004 and now has five total.

“All schools in Maine have these now, but I don’t know of any school that has more than we do,” Guerin says. “We’re in the forefront, and it’s just a godsend to have them.”

Far from being overkill, having five AED units at KHS could save a life. According to Guerin, the school now has is five AEDs spaced out, “so that one is no more than three minutes from anywhere on campus.”

That’s important because, even in Kennebunk, it can take several minutes for an ambulance to arrive in response to a 911 call. And, according to the Dr. Adam Putschoegl of the American Heart Association (AHA) in Maine, every minute counts when someone has suffered a sudden cardiac event.

“Survival rates drop as much as 10 percent for every minute that goes by without intervention,” he said. “Having access to AEDs and hands-only CPR training are especially crucial in Maine’s rural communities.”

Across the U.S., about 359,400 people of all ages experience out-of-hospital, non-traumatic sudden cardiac arrest each year. That’s’ about 1,000 per day and nine out of 10 victims will die, Putschoegl says. In fact, the survival rate, even with EMS assistance, is only 8.4 percent.

That’s because, according the AHA, chances of surviving such an incident drop 7 to 10 percent for each minute that goes by without defibrillation, or a shock the resents the heart back into its normal rhythm.

If defibrillation is delayed more than 10 minutes, the AHA says, survival rates drop to less than 10 percent.

But having an AED on hand helps tremendously. According to a two-year study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, of 59 confirmed heart attacks suffered at schools by children and adults, quick use of an AED unit boosted survival rates to 85 percent of youngsters and 61 percent of adults.

Moreover, in cases where cardiac arrest came as a result of physical activity, the survival rate following use of an AED climbed to 89 percent in both minors and adults.

According to Guerin, and AED had never been employed at Kennebunk High School in the decade the school has had the units, but that doesn’t matter, she says. She still brings one with her to every emergency call. After all, as Auriemma notes, the unit only ever needs to be used once to prove its worth.

“It’s not a matter of if it happens in the lifespan of the school, it’s when it happens,” he says. “It may not happen for 10 years, but when it does, for that family, and for that child, it’s going to be significant that there’s proper training and there’s proper resources.”

And, as Auriemma points out, its not just school children who might be saves. While Guerin says there are students in RSU 21 with heart conditions, and others could suffer at any time from an undiagnosed ailment, Auriemma notes district buildings “are used pretty much 24/7” by the public, including senior citizens, whether volunteering in the schools, or on hand for a community event.

A Kennebunkport resident, Auriemma works as an EMT for his hometown rescue unit, as well as on a per diem basis for Kennebunk Rescue.

A former principal at Scarborough High School, who now travels the country as an education consultant, he has confi- dence that both school staff, and students, can save a life.

“What Chris or one of her teachers or students do in the first four minutes after a sudden cardiac event, that’s exactly what we would be doing as EMTs,” he says. “So, if they’ve already started that, that makes the folks who come with the advanced life support able to take it that much further. They don’t have to start from scratch.”

“It’s true,” says Rowe, noting that the AED his rescue workers will bring is, at $32,000 per unit, a little more advanced than what the schools have on hand, or what Kennebunk police officers carry with them. “But otherwise, what they do in the first four minutes is exactly what we would do. There’s no difference.”

The difference is in having someone there to do it, he says.

That’s why all bus drivers in RSU 21 are certified in the AHA’s HeartSaver course, and why Auriemma recently led a CPR course, which included training on the AED units for middle school staffers. All students at the high school learn “hands-only” CPR — which includes how to perform chest compressions, but leaves out training in mouth-to-mouth resuscitation — Guerin says, while AED awareness is taught in health classes.

The modern emphasis on hands-only CPR is because, quite frankly, some people, youngsters especially, can get weirded out by the prospect of performing mouth-to-mouth, and so may do nothing for fear of doing something wrong. But CPR alone can make a difference, Rowe says.

“You have 10 minutes of available oxygen in your body,” Rowe said. “There’s no metabolic demand when you’re at standstill. If you can just circulate that blood, there’s still oxygen attached to it, so, you’re doing something and it’s effective. It works really well.”

CPR is important, because sometime the AED will not fire, if it detects no heartbeat at all.

“CPR still continues because sometimes you can build up enough of a mitochondrial oxygenation to develop a rhythm,” Rowe said. “So, you could do CPR and then all of a sudden it recognizes something it can apply a shock to. Generally, when someone is asystolic, or flat-lined, they stay that way, but I have seen in my career somebody with good CPR going on, we’re able to shock them back.”

According to Guerin, between students and staff, “about 75 percent of everyone in any one building here know CPR, at least the hands-only version.”

Receipt of the AED units was made possible by MCD Public Health and the Maine Cardiovascular Health Council through their joint, “Promoting Early CPR and Defibrillation Through HeartSafe Communities” grant.

“Without them writing the grant for the federal dollars, none of this would be possible,” Auriemma said.

Kennebunk has been designated as an AHA HeartSafe community for more than a decade. Keeping that designation, which made the town eligible for the AED grant, is partly why Auriemma says he and others work to maintain training levels among students and school staff.

“A designation isn’t passive, it’s active,” he said. “It takes the town and the school and everyone working together to make sure the awareness level is there for a life safety plan.”

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