Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin will be on Capitol Hill Wednesday to try to convince U.S. lawmakers they need to make sure students across the country can access the same kind of life-saving device that restarted his heart earlier this year.
U.S. Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-Florida) will introduce the Access to AEDs Act, which she said was shaped by a Scripps News investigation that revealed far too many U.S. schools are underprepared when a sudden cardiac arrest happens. In an astounding 40% of cardiac arrests Scripps News examined in U.S. schools over the last three years, life-saving AEDs went unused in the precious minutes before emergency crews arrived. In some cases, children died.
Cherfilus-McCormick was struck by the tragic death of Kentucky high schooler Matthew Mangine Jr. after his story was featured in Scripps News' January report. During a soccer practice in 2020, the teenager dropped to the ground in sudden cardiac arrest. His father, Matt Mangine Sr., said an AED was just 250 feet away, but no one ever grabbed it.
"There were five AEDs at the school that night and one wasn't brought to him," Mangine Sr. said.
Scripps News found that only five states in the U.S. have laws requiring schools to have some kind of AED drill. Last month, Cherfilus-McCormick pledged she would "definitely" address the training gap the Scripps News investigation found, including in schools that already have AEDs. She said the report highlighted that Congress needed to help schools get more "hands-on" practice that can better prepare them for real emergencies — something researchers say can be the difference between life and death.
This week, with the introduction of the Access to AEDs Act, the Congresswoman will keep her word. The Mangine family will attend the announcement. Kim Mangine, Matthew Mangine Jr.'s mother, had told Scripps News in January that schools should do AED drills just like they do tornado and fire drills.
A draft of the bill reviewed by Scripps News prior to its introduction said it would fund "CPR and AED training programs in (public elementary and secondary) schools for students, staff, and related sports volunteers." Grants could also go to many public charter schools.
Should it pass, the Act would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to award up to $25 million in grants over five years to public schools for establishing or bolstering comprehensive AED programs on their campuses in consultation with "a qualified healthcare entity." The money could be spent on training staff and students alike on how to use the devices, and could go toward buying new AEDs or replacing old ones. It could even help athletic departments screen student athletes for their risk of sudden cardiac arrest.
The AED devices can cost less than $1,000 apiece, but after reviewing laws nationwide for the January report, Scripps News found 31 states did not have laws requiring AEDs be in schools.
The bill already has endorsements from a wide range of organizations including The American Heart Association, National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, National Basketball Association, Women's National Basketball Association, NASCAR, Major League Soccer, the NCAA, the National Alliance for Youth Sports, National Association of Secondary School Principals, and a number of EMS and other school-related organizations.
"I just want to make sure everybody knows that what happened to Damar Hamlin, it was not a miracle," Cherfilus-McCormick told Scripps News in January.
It was the preparedness and quick action from officials that saved him, she said. She believes schools can do the same.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children, including non-athletes, be screened at least every three years for heart conditions that could lead to cardiac arrests. For more information about what to discuss with your child's pediatrician, click here.
You can email Mark.Greenblatt@Scripps.com and Carrie.Cochran@Scripps.com with questions about this story or other tips for a new investigation.
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