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October 26, 2011

Defibrillators urged for Mass. schools

By Kyle Cheney
The Lowell Sun

BOSTON — Two-and-a-half years after her heart stopped for nearly an hour, bus driver Laura Geraghty said she would have died if it weren't for an automatic external defibrillator on the grounds of Newton South High School and some timely CPR.

"That defibrillator and that CPR is what saved my life," Geraghty, of North Attleboro, told lawmakers, describing her sudden heart failure during a school bus run that took her to the Newton school in April 2009.

Today, Geraghty is urging lawmakers to require schools to carry defibrillators for the rare but critical moments they're needed to save a life. Geraghty spoke at a hearing of the Legislature's Committee on Public Health on behalf of a bill that would require schools to have an "on-site" defibrillator.

She was joined by Sean Burns, a freshman at Milford High School who teamed up with his father to press local businesses and agencies to donate defibrillators — which go for about $1,200 each — to schools and sports teams around the state.

Sean, 14, told the committee he and his father were inspired by the near-death of a player on Milford High School's hockey team whose heart stopped when he was struck in the chest by a slap shot last year.

Sean said one of the concerns he hopes to address is the shared use of defibrillators by more than one sports team, which could result in the device being unavailable if a player on another team has heart failure. The device is most effective when employed within three minutes of an incident, he said.

Geraghty and Burns were accompanied by Allyson Perron, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association, who said schools "are not as equipped as we would like them to be."

Sen. Susan Fargo, committee co-chair, wondered whether any additional training would be required for school officials to operate a defibrillator, although backers said they've become simple to use.

Fargo, a Lincoln Democrat, also questioned whether defibrillators are available in the Statehouse in case of an emergency. Perron responded that capitol rangers carry and have been trained in the use of defibrillators.

The proliferation of defibrillators in schools was one of several public-health policies before the committee yesterday that advocates contended were essential to save lives. Many of them have stalled for several sessions without action.

"I cannot understand why this bill has been filed for seven or eight sessions right now and has not made it to the governor's desk," said Rep. Jay Kaufman, who spoke in support of a bill (H 594) that would allow students "with life-threatening allergies" to carry and self-administer epinephrine pens in schools. Kaufman, a Lexington Democrat, pleaded with committee members for an explanation so that "when people ask me how this building operates, I can give them a sane answer."

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