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March 17, 2023

Pennsylvania schools are not required to have AEDs – new legislation aims to change that

The lifesaving devices are commonly found in public office buildings and offices. Schools should have them in case children suffer cardiac arrest, state Sen. Katie Muth said

In the aftermath of Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin suffering cardiac arrest during a "Monday Night Football" game in January, Pennsylvania lawmakers are seeking to ensure Pennsylvania schools have the medical equipment and training necessary to respond to students who suffer cardiac arrest. 

A pair of bills introduced by state Sen. Katie Muth, who represents parts of Berks, Chester, and Montgomery counties, would require every school building have an automated external defibrillator and mandate CPR training for certain staff members, including athletic coaches.

AEDs are portable electronic devices that can analyze the heart's rhythm and, if necessary, deliver an electric shock to re-establish an effective rhythm. They are commonly found in many public buildings and offices, but Pennsylvania is one of the few states that do not require all school buildings to have them, Muth said. 

"Sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone, at any time, without symptoms or warning signs, which is why it is imperative our children are surrounded by individuals who are prepared to act and to save a life," Muth said.

More than 2,000 children die after suffering from sudden cardiac arrest each year, according to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Two-thirds of children's deaths from cardiac arrests occur during exercise or athletic activity, and cardiac arrests cause 75% of all youth athlete-related deaths. 

One of the bills would require Pennsylvania schools to have AEDs in a centralized location. They also would need to create emergency action plans and have certified emergency response teams capable of responding to people suffering from cardiac arrest. 

Schools would be required to report the condition, age and location placement of their AEDs to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Currently, the state has no way of knowing whether the AEDs in school buildings are in working condition.

The other bill would require that all coaches and supervisors of afterschool activities be certified in CPR and using AEDs. 

Muth crafted the legislation with the help of  Aidan's Heart Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to raise awareness about cardiac arrest in youth and prevent the health issue. The nonprofit was founded in Southeastern Pennsylvania after Aidan Silva died of sudden cardiac arrest at age 7 in 2010. 

"Working with Aidan's Heart Foundation, we put together a gold standard bill – this is not just recommending; we want to make sure our schools have AEDs, have CPR training, and have an emergency action plan in place to respond to incidents of sudden cardiac arrest," Muth said.

In January, state Sen. Marty Flynn announced his intent to introduce legislation that would require Pennsylvania school districts to have AEDs available whenever they host sporting events. Dubbed "Damar's Law," it also would provide AED training for coaches and school staffers.