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Effort to put defibrillators in Seattle schools could save lives

It happens too often, even in our schools: A student or teacher collapses, the victim of sudden cardiac arrest.

The chances of surviving the nation's leading killer have gone up in Seattle schools this year. There has been a massive effort to bring automatic external defibrillators (AED) to every school and sports field district-wide.

It's the culmination of a two-year campaign led by the Seattle Seahawks and a group of community medical providers and groups.

"It takes a little work, but it's also very worthwhile, and it's something that needs to be done in all school districts," says Darla Varrenti, a leader of the Heart of Seattle Schools campaign.

Varrenti's teenage son Nick died from sudden cardiac arrest following football practice, leading her to create the Nick of Time Foundation, which works to raise awareness of sudden cardiac arrest and prevent deaths. She says it's as much a threat to healthy young people as it is adults.

"In August alone we had 15 kids across the U.S. suffer sudden cardiac arrest, and they were only able to save 3 of them," she says.

But Varrenti says with an AED and CPR, the survival rate goes way up.

An AED and CPRO saved Redmond Junior High Student Levi Pocza's life. The then 7th grader collapsed in P.E. class, but was revived by quick-acting teachers who kept him alive with CPR and an AED in the school gym until paramedics arrived.

"They absolutely saved his life," Pocza's mom, Sierra, says. "Without it, he would never have come out of cardiac arrest and would have suffered brain damage or died."

Sierra has become an advocate for AEDs, and is pleased the Seattle School District is outfitting every school with one. She says it's ridiculous it takes such a massive effort with the Seahawks, widespread fundraising and nearly two years to make it happen.

"What really pisses me off is when I talk to people, and they don't think they need [an AED.] What if you're in a position where you have to save someone's life. You're going to need an AED," Sierra says.

AEDs are currently being installed in an accessible location at every Seattle school and athletic field. A number of people will be trained at each location to use them. All students and staff will be made aware of them, just in case.

Varrenti says her group is now working with Tacoma schools to bring AEDs to the district, and the ultimate goal is to get them installed state-wide.

"They're mandated in the state of Washington for casinos, health clubs, golf clubs and prisons, but they're not mandated for our schools. It's crazy. It's something we need to do to protect our kids and our communities."

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