Defibrillators make debut in local schools

By Christina Atallah

An “army of young kids” will soon be walking the streets of Ottawa equipped with a new defence in the fight against a dangerous enemy – cardiac arrest.

For the first time in Canada, students at four Ottawa high schools will be taught to use defibrillators, which shock a stopped heart back into beating.

The Advanced Coronary Treatment Foundation, a national group that aims to create public awareness on critical health issues, got the idea for the project after seeing hundreds of the machines appear in public buildings across the city, says Sandra Clarke, the foundation’s executive director.

Earlier this month, the Ottawa Paramedic Service trained 19 physical education teachers to instruct Grade 9 students in defibrillation as part of the mandatory CPR training they currently receive.

The emphasis is on getting as many people as possible to learn lifesaving skills, says Clarke.

“This army of young kids is going to be out there who know how to use defibrillators,” she says. “Emergency care doesn’t begin with the hospital emergency room; it begins with the person who witnesses the event. When someone goes into cardiac arrest, time is of the essence.”

When early CPR and defibrillation are combined, a person experiencing cardiac arrest has almost double the rate of survival, according to the ACT Foundation.

Students at Glebe Collegiate, Immaculata, Hillcrest and St. Mark high schools will begin defibrillation training in two 40-minute sessions starting in April.

Although cardiac arrest among youth is uncommon, Clarke says it’s important to put defibrillators in schools.

In the case of a young person’s death, many other people are impacted because they have their whole lives in front of them, she says.

Lisa Carroll, Immaculata High School’s athletic director, says defibrillation is a perfect complement to the Grade 9 CPR course.

“It’s not like you see in the movies,” she says.

“It’s very easy to use. The machine does a lot of the work for you.”

The defibrillators provide voice instructions and diagrams. They also read a person’s vitals and will not emit a shock unless he or she is suffering from cardiac arrest.

Carroll says she has no concerns about the program and believes students are excited about learning this new skill.

Jamie-Lee Moir, a Grade 9 student at Immaculata High School, says she would be ready to try to save someone’s life if an emergency occurred.

“I think it’s a great idea for kids to learn how to resuscitate,” she says.

“At this age, we’re old enough to understand it and contribute and help other people.”

Carroll says it is important to train youth because they’re involved in sports and will go to facilities where a high percentage of heart attacks happen. If they know how to use the machines, she says, students will be more likely to save a life.

“Kids are where you start,” she says. “I think starting with them young, they won’t be afraid of the new technology that’s out there.”

Re-certification is recommended every three years and although Clarke says she doesn’t think the majority of people will refresh their skills, she believes that youth will remember the basics.

For people in cardiac arrest, doing something is better than doing nothing, she says.

The paramedic service will visit the schools once a year to ensure the defibrillators are properly maintained.

The ACT Foundation started the high school CPR program in Ottawa in 1994. The project has now expanded to around 1,000 high schools nationwide, something Clarke says she hopes will happen with the defibrillator program.

The project will cost around $5,000 per school, which covers a defibrillator and training materials. The pilot project was funded through a portion of the proceeds raised at a charity ball.

The foundation will evaluate the pilot program and try to raise enough money through private sector fundraising to expand the project to all schools across the city over the next two years.