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January 30, 2023

AEDs are lifesaving tools, but they're not required at Pa. school sporting events; A proposed law would change that

In the aftermath of Damar Hamlin's cardiac arrest, state Sen. Marty Flynn wants to ensure access to the emergency devices

The use of an automated external defibrillator, coupled with high-quality CPR, can prove critical when someone is suffering from cardiac arrest – a point underscored by the on-field revival of NFL player Damar Hamlin.

With Hamlin's situation in mind, a Pennsylvania lawmaker has proposed a law that would require school districts to have AEDs available whenever they host sporting events. 

State Sen. Marty Flynn, a Democrat who represents portions of Lackawanna and Luzerne counties, plans to introduce the bill when the Senate returns from its five-week recess on Feb. 27. The legislation, to be named "Damar's Law," also would provide AED training for coaches and school staffers. 

Hamlin, a Buffalo Bills player, suffered cardiac arrest caused by blunt trauma to the chest, known medically as commotio cordis, following a hit during a "Monday Night Football" game earlier this month. When the blunt trauma occurs at a precise moment during the heartbeat, it can lead to ventricular fibrillation, a disorganized rhythm that can cause a loss of pulse and sudden cardiac death if not immediately reversed, according to the Association of Black Cardiologists.

Similarly, sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating. With the heart's pumping action disrupted, blood can't get to the brain, lungs and other organs, according to the American Heart Association. People can die within minutes if they do not receive medical treatment. 

"Damar Hamlin is a reminder that even elite athletes experience SCA," Flynn wrote in a co-sponsorship memo last week. "His recovery has been described as 'miraculous' by many, though it is undeniable that the immediate response saved his life. I encourage my colleagues to support this bill to provide our student athletes with the same chance for a 'miracle.'" 

SCA is a leading cause of death, with more than 350,000 out-of-hospital incidents occurring each year in the United States. The use of a defibrillator and CPR during cardiac arrest can double the chance of survival

Many Pennsylvania schools already keep AEDs on hand and have staffers trained to use them, Flynn said. The state allows districts to purchase AEDs through its cooperative purchasing program, and publishes a report detailing the placement of AEDs in Pennsylvania schools.  

Flynn's proposal aims to better address the risk for cardiac arrest among student athletes by ensuring students are provided with potentially lifesaving medical treatment if they suffer cardiac arrest during a game or practice. 

New Jersey already has a law like Flynn's proposal on the books. Janet's Law is named after 11-year-old Janet Zilinski, a Warren County student who died during cheerleading practice from SCA. The legislation, signed into law by former Gov. Chris Christie in 2012, requires all schools to have defibrillators on hand and at least one trained individual present at all practices and events. 

New Jersey's Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act, signed into law by Christie in 2014, mandates informing student athletes, parents and coaches about SCA and establishes protocols for removing athletes exhibiting symptoms of SCA, the Asbury Park Press reported. 

Hamlin, a 24-year-old Allegheny County native, received an outpouring of support after his heartbeat was restored as Bills and Cincinnati Bengals players prayed together in visible distress. Hamlin was later sent to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. 

Denny Kellington, assistant athletic trainer for the Bills, was credited by offensive lineman Dion Dawkins with providing the CPR and defibrillation that saved Hamlin's life. The second-year player remained in critical condition and on a ventilator for several days, but has since made strides in his recovery. 

"Now that my brothers have closed out a strong winning season, as I continue to make so much progress recovering, I think it's finally a good time to share a few things," Hamlin said in a video posted Saturday on social media. "I think it was important for me to wait and speak publicly at the right time, as it was just a lot to process within my own self. Mentally, physically, even spiritually." 

In the days following Hamlin's cardiac arrest, football fans poured $9 million into a toy drive fundraiser that Hamlin started in 2020. Now, with Hamlin on the mend, his family has formally launched "The Chasing M's Foundation" Charitable Fund. The foundation supports community toy drives, back-to-school drives and kids camps. Supporters can donate to the charitable fund online