By REID CHAMPAGNE • Special to The News Journal • February 4, 2010
In 2004, Christina Bennett, then a seventh-grade student at F. Niel Postlethwait Middle School in Camden, had just finished her gym class, where she admitted she had “overdone it.” Climbing to the top of a set of stairs after the class, she collapsed and her heart stopped. A teacher and nurse immediately grabbed the school’s Automated External Defibrillator (AED) and activated it. On the third attempt, they got Christina’s heart beating again. She was rushed to the hospital, where she remained for two months, and where a pacemaker was implanted in her chest.
The news since then has all been good. Christina graduated from Caesar Rodney High School in 2009, and is now a spokeswoman for the Delaware Chapter of the American Heart Association. She will be attending Delaware Technical & Community College in the fall, and works two jobs to save money for college.
What happened to Christina was a medical accident, but the rapid, coordinated response that saved her life was not. The defibrillator that saved her life in middle school had been installed at Postlethwait two weeks earlier. Her resuscitation by the teacher and school nurse was the result of long-standing practice and standards for safety in public schools.
“Each public school maintains a crisis plan for students with special medical needs,” said Linda Wolfe, director of school support services within Delaware’s Department of Education. “That plan establishes a team composed of the school nurse as well as other school personnel trained in CPR.”
Wolfe said when a student emergency occurs, the team starts a series of detailed response protocols that are identified down to the level of who will call 911 and which teacher will fill the class vacated by the teacher or staffer responding to the emergency.
Wolfe said the Bennett case reflects how the nursing and medical standards developed by the education department are intended to work.
“Each public school maintains a registered nurse on staff, who must also have a [bachelor’s] degree in nursing, completed certification requirements for school nursing and have three years of clinical nursing experience,” Wolfe said.
School nurses must also regularly maintain their CPR and defibrillator certification.
Today, every public and private school in Delaware with a student population of 75 or more has a defibrillator on school grounds and within easy access for emergencies. That was the goal set by the state’s Office of Emergency Medical Services in 2000.
“We’ve placed some 2100 [defibrillators] throughout the state over the last 10 years,” said Diane Hainsworth, Delaware’s paramedic administrator. In addition to all public and private schools, the devices have been placed in health and fitness centers, golf courses, senior centers, churches and other buildings where people assemble.
“We focused on schools primarily because of the frequency of public events occurring there that attract adult as well as student attendance,” Hainsworth said.
Wilmington resident Stewart Krug foundedthe Matthew Krug Foundation in honor of his 16-year-old son who died of cardiac arrest in 2001. He has been a devoted advocate of placing defibrillators in all public schools.
“With each minute that passes without treatment following a [sudden cardiac] attack, chances of survival are reduced anywhere from seven to 10 percent,” Krug said. “Brain death begins within just four to six minutes following [the attack].”
Having helped achieve his foundation’s vision of placing defibrillators in public and private schools, he remains at work on student-related safety, including free cardiac screenings and physical exams prior to participating in school sports. But Krug hasn’t taken his eye off defibrillators.
“There’s still the issue of making sure those units that are installed are maintained and charged on a regular basis,” he said.