Missoula County Public Schools is raising money to buy defibrillators.
MCPS hopes to have enough money within a year to have at least one machine in each of its 21 schools and buildings. The schools have launched a campaign in February, which is “American Heart Month,” in an effort to gather donations from businesses and community members.
All funds will go to the purchase of Automatic External Defibrillators, portable electronic devices used to diagnose and treat potentially life-threatening heart issues such as cardiac arrest. The machines treat patients through defibrillation, or electrical therapy that allows a heart to re-establish an effective rhythm.
AEDs, unlike normal defibrillators, require very little training to use and are designed to recognize heart rhythm and determine if a shock is needed, administering the shock without the user’s command. The devices are attached to victims and through voice and visual prompts, lead rescuers through the steps of operation.
“The reason they’re called ‘automatic’ is because they’re easy,” said Linda Simon, MCPS health service supervisor. “The unit is thinking for you so the person doesn’t have to make those critical decisions. It’s very user-friendly. It immediately turns on and starts talking to you and walking you through it.”
The device, she said, will even correct the user through verbal directions if it isn’t being used correctly.
Schools are perfect locations for this kind of medical device, Simon said. Right now, four Missoula schools already have AEDs, including all three high schools and Cold Springs Elementary. Having an AED in a school building benefits more than just the students and faculty who frequent its halls each day, she said. Schools are often the sites of meetings, sporting events, plays and other extracurricular activities.
“The community gathers at a school,” Simon said. “They’re very highly used buildings.”
These community members are just as much the focus, if not more so, than the young student population, she said. While students spend the most time in the schools and it could be one of the kids who ends up needing defibrillation, she said, that’s not the most likely group.
Joe Knapp, a member of the MCPS board of trustees, said the availability of medical help could make save a life.
“As we deal with an aging population, the incidents of heart disease are slowing rising,” Knapp said. “Heart arrest or heart rhythm stoppage can be shocked back to normal if they’re gotten to early. Since the schools are all pretty common public venues for public organizations, we thought it was a pretty good idea to do this.”
Along with an AED, each school will have someone trained in the use of the device and in CPR. Having a person in the building who knows both the location of the device and how to use it creates an even higher chance of survival in the event of cardiac arrest, Knapp said.
AEDs will be strategically located in the buildings, Simon said, in order to make them the most accessible at all times of the day. Locations, such as in or near gyms or by main offices, are easily accessed from most of the school, she said. Gyms also serve as gathering places for large groups of people as well as sites of strenuous physical activity, activity that can possibly lead to cardiac arrest in people with heart conditions.
The devices cost about $1,600 each. MCPS wants to eventually buy as many as 30 AEDs so some larger schools may have two. That means they will need to raise close to $50,000 plus some for maintenence, Knapp said. But over a long time period, the cost makes sense.
“On a yearly basis, they’re pretty inexpensive,” he said. “Over the next 15 years, more than likely, we’re going to have to use these devices on somebody.”
Purchasing defibrillators will be done only through donated funds, Simon said. The money will not be coming out of the school district’s budget, which means they are relying fully on community support, she said.
“The big thing is that they’re really meant for the community,” she said.
Donations for AEDs can be sent as cash or check to the Missoula Education Foundation, a nonprofit group working with MCPS.
MCPS will also be accepting donations at the St. Patrick Hospital Heart Expo on Feb. 20. The event lasts from 7 a.m. to noon at the Broadway Building Conference Center next to the hospital.
AJ Mazzolini is a junior studying print journalism at the University of Montana who is interning at the Missoulian. He can be reached at 523-5251 or firstname.lastname@example.org.