Three months after a 15-year-old Centennial High School sophomore collapsed at school and later died, the Kern High School District has signaled it plans to move forward with placing automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, on every campus.
The KHSD board of trustees heard a staff presentation on what it would cost to implement the program Monday night at its monthly meeting, which was attended by doctors and more than a dozen emergency medical services personnel from city and county fire departments and Hall Ambulance.
All of them spoke of the desperate need for immediate access to AEDs in the event of sudden cardiac arrest.
"Yes, CPR is important, but there's no substitute for delivering electricity to the heart," said Dr. Jared Salvo, the emergency room physician who treated Caleb Hannink in November after the boy collapsed during his physical education class at Centennial.
Salvo said he had the family's permission to speak to the board Monday.
"I spent 45 minutes trying to resuscitate that young man," he said. "It was gut-wrenching watching him clinging to life, fading and then coming back before eventually dying."
It takes an ambulance, on average, six minutes to get to any of KHSD's campuses, according to the staff report delivered by Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Mike Zulfa, but a cardiac patient's odds of survival increase greatly if the heart gets a jolt within three to four minutes.
It would cost between $243,000 and $367,500 to start up the program, which would include the cost of purchasing 135 to 175 AEDs for use districtwide, Zulfa said.
The average high school campus is 60 acres, so each school would need multiple devices to meet the urgent three- to four-minute "drop to shock" timeline, he said.
There would be additional ongoing annual maintenance costs and expenses of between $69,120 and $89,600 a year, Zulfa said. That includes the cost of regularly replacing batteries and pads and training faculty and staff in how to use them, among other things.
Anyone who used an AED on a person in distress generally would be protected from liability by the state's Good Samaritan law protecting those who come to a sick person's aid, Zulfa said.
The Start a Heart Foundation, which supports CPR training, was at the board meeting and said it would help cover a portion of start-up and ongoing costs.
Cost and liability risks have previously made many local school districts wary of putting AEDs on school campuses, but Hannink's death seems to have turned the tide.
The KHSD trustees thanked Zulfa and the medical providers for their remarks and indicated they'd like to see the proposal placed on the March 4 school board agenda. They also asked staff to narrow down the cost estimate so the board could have more precise figures to consider when it votes.
Several trustees said they wanted to move forward as quickly as possible, and would even be willing to take up the matter at a special session if one were scheduled before the March meeting.
After the meeting, cardiac safety activist Corinne Ruiz ran into the lobby of the board room sobbing. Friends and supporters followed her and they embraced and cheered.
Ruiz, 60, lost a 14-year-old daughter to a heart problem a decade ago and has dedicated her life ever since to getting defibrillators into schools.
"Oh my gosh, there are no words to explain how I feel," she said wiping away tears. "I just can't believe it. There were so many times I wanted to give up, but I couldn't because I couldn't let my baby's death be in vain."