FirstHealth’s Phyllis Magnuson, R.N., (left), and assistant principal Judith Douglas hold an automated external defibrillator (AED) that is located at Pinehurst Elementary School. Because of the identified needs of a particular student, Pinehurst Elementary was the first elementary school in Moore County to get one of the lifesaving devices provided by HeartSafe Moore County five years ago. There are now 52 AEDs in the school system’s 23 schools.
PINEHURST – Phyllis Magnuson, R.N., sometimes feels physically ill when she hears that sudden cardiac arrest has claimed the life of another student athlete on an American practice or playing field.
She believes many of these deaths could have been prevented.
“These children could have been saved if an AED had been close by,” she says.
Magnuson is a registered nurse and the manager of FirstHealth’s School Nurse Program. For the better part of the past decade, she has been active with a group of Moore County residents from various walks of life who saw the need to place automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in public places throughout the county. The devices automatically diagnose life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias and then deliver an electric therapy to shock the heart back into rhythm.
Inspired by several incidents of sudden cardiac death in school athletic programs throughout the nation, HeartSafe Moore County began its lifesaving efforts in the county’s public schools by placing AEDs in the three high schools – as well as an elementary school with an identified need – in January 2008.
Every school now has at least one device. Not a single machine has ever been used, but Magnuson believes it’s just a matter of time until one is needed.
“It will happen,” she says, “but we’re ready, and we’re prepared.”
Moore County’s AED movement was driven by a relatively small group that also included a former heart surgeon (Robin Cummings, M.D.), the then-superintendent of schools (Dr. Susan Purser) and the director of the FirstHealth Centers for Health & Fitness (John Caliri). Its goal quickly captured community support as Magnuson and others took their story on the road.
Local Rotary and other civic clubs were early partners. So were The Foundation of FirstHealth and the Moore County Community Foundation. Individual donations rolled in to honor or memorialize loved ones.
“When we walked out (after speaking to groups), the donations began,” Magnuson says.
After deciding to focus initial efforts on schools, which are often hubs of community activity, the HeartSafe group started to investigate available technology and eventually decided on equipment produced by the Washington state-based Cardiac Science. Several factors influenced the choice, but chief among them was an “auto-read” component that automatically checks the patient’s heart rhythm and delivers a stabilizing shock (or shocks) as the machine dictates basic lifesaving and CPR instructions.
“All you have to do is open the lid,” says Magnuson.
A Cardiac Science representative joined Magnuson on a walk-about of each school campus to determine the best locations for the AEDs. The two considered American Heart Association “Chain of Survival” protocols in their deliberations and based each decision on a standard that it should take no more than a three-minute turn-around to get a device to the person in distress.
There are now 52 AEDs in the 23 schools in the Moore County system. North Moore, Pinecrest and Union Pines High schools have three mounted machines each plus a mobile unit carried by a team trainer to away games.
Every school has a machine mounted on a wall just outside its office area, and schools with a gymnasium have a second device.
“Not only the school system, but also the community at large owes a debt of gratitude to the folks involved with HeartSafe Moore County,” says Moore County Schools Superintendent Dr. Aaron Spence. “In addition to the students and staff in our schools, these devices are close at hand throughout our schools for anyone who may be visiting our campuses, including the thousands of people who attend athletic events and other school functions. Certainly, these devices are a key component in helping us ensure that we have safe schools.”
Now that all schools have AED coverage, the school system provides funding for replacement supplies and two part-time Moore County EMS employees check batteries and pads while conducting fire inspections in the individual schools.
FirstHealth-provided school nurses – all certified first aid and CPR instructors – conduct annual faculty training sessions, and every school has designated and nurse-trained first responders.
According to Scot Brooks, deputy director of public safety/emergency manager, Moore County Public Safety, who has been involved with the HeartSafe program from the get-go, more than 330 AEDs are currently positioned in strategic locations throughout the county. Some are in movie theaters, workplaces and churches while others are mounted outside businesses and public buildings throughout various downtown areas.
Both Southern Pines and Pinehurst have embraced the AED movement as have many neighborhoods, especially those built on or around golf courses. One hundred grant-funded devices have since been placed in law enforcement vehicles.
“It fits perfectly in our mission in EMS,” Brooks says. “Our mission is to improve the standard of care and make citizen access to care countywide. This fits that purpose perfectly.”