Tuscarora Elementary School nurse Darlene Galeski was always concerned that if a child or a staff member went into cardiac arrest she could only call 911 and wait for help.
But this year an unexpected donation has relieved Galeski’s fears.
The Gaithersburg-based Rescue One Training for Life, Inc. has donated automated external defibrillators for all of Frederick County’s elementary and middle schools.
The 62 life-saving machines will be mounted inside cabinets at a key location in each school, providing staff with an instant way to shock back to life a person who loses their pulse or stops breathing.
The new devices come with simple directions and are easy to use. They should benefit not only students, but also parents and school staff, Galeski said.
“It’s like an insurance policy,” she said. “You hope you never have to use it. But if you do, it is there for you.”
Christa Williams, the Frederick County Public Schools’ health specialist, said the donation will be particularly helpful for students with cardiac conditions.
Frederick County currently serves 114 students with a documented cardiac condition and some of them used to bring their own defibrillator to school every day, Williams said.
But even outside those cases, the new devices can help save lives, Williams said.
Last year, the school system placed 163 calls to 911 and 7 percent of the calls for students were cardiac-related, Williams said. Another 26.6 percent of the calls for staff were cardiac related, she said.
An automated external defibrillator is portable and not much bigger than a George Foreman Grill. The device delivers a therapeutic dose of electrical energy to the heart, restoring the normal heart rhythm.
While defibrillators were mostly used by emergency crews, in the last few years they have started to enter public buildings, such as schools, gyms airports and offices.
The automated defibrilators are very easy to use and even come with a recording of step-by-step instructions for use. The school system however, has been training staff to use the new machines, Williams said. All of the school system’s physical education teachers have already received their training and now each building has at least a couple of staff members who have been trained to use the defibrilators, Williams said.
Until this year, only high schools in Frederick County had their own defibrillators, because of a state mandate.
That is why Jeremy Gruber, the founder of Rescue One Training for Life, Inc., offered to donate the new units. Cardiac arrest causes about half a million deaths annually, but early access to defibrillation can substantially increase a person’s chances of survival, Gruber said.
“We had an opportunity to help where there was a need for help,” he said.
While Gruber’s company provides the initial cost of the machines (which run between $1,200 and $1,500), Frederick County Public Schools will pay for the company to maintain and inspect the units in accordance to federal regulations, Gruber said.
The cost of maintenance for each of the 62 machines will be $395 for each of the first three years of the contract. If the school system chooses to extend that contract, the cost will go down to $295 a year, he said. Typically, maintenance includes a change of the battery and the pads for each defibrillator.
For Gruber, who compared the defibrillators to air bags, fire alarms and sprinkler systems, they are worth the cost.
His company has also donated defibrillators to other Maryland school systems and the machines are already helping to save lives, Gruber said. In Baltimore County Public Schools, the machines saved a grandparent and a bus driver, when they went into cardiac arrest, Gruber said. School staff at one elementary school also used it on a 10-year-old student, who unfortunately ended up dying from a heart condition, Gruber said.
“It is not something that people talk about or hear about,” he said. “You just never know when something is going to happen.”