A year after a 15-year-old Centennial High School sophomore's heart stopped at school, the Kern High School District Tuesday began putting automated external defibrillators on all 18 of its high school campuses.
As the first of them was placed inside a white, wall-mounted box in the Centennial High School gymnasium where Caleb Hannink collapsed in November 2012, Corinne Ruiz sniffed and dabbed her eyes.
"It's very emotional, but at the same time I'm very happy that we're making our high schools heart-safe," said Ruiz, 63, who lobbied tirelessly to get AEDs into schools after her 14-year-old daughter, Olivia Hoff, slipped into a coma and died from an undiagnosed heart defect in 2004.
Initially, schools weren't receptive to the idea of AEDs on campus. Even when Ruiz's nonprofit, the Olivia's Heart Project, offered to pay for the expensive devices, school administrators were wary of taking on the ongoing maintenance, and of exposing themselves to legal liability.
Then Caleb died. Ruiz made another round of pleas with school boards all over the region, including the KHSD board of trustees.
This time, KHSD was receptive. Earlier this year, the board asked district administrators to look into what it would cost to have AEDs at every high school. The board subsequently voted to approve the program. The devices it purchased cost about $1,500 each.
For Ruiz, the installation of the AEDs meant her daughter's death was not in vain.
"I wouldn't want anyone else to lose a child because it's the worst pain of all. You never get over it." she said. "We can't save everyone, but at least now we have the tools andwe have the trained staff to give kids a chance, and that's going to save lives."
AEDs are electronic devices that check the heart's rhythm and, if necessary, deliver an electric shock to restore a regular heartbeat.
Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Mike Zulfa oversaw KHSD's acquisition of the AEDs.
He couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday, but in February he told the KHSD board it would cost between $243,000 and $367,500 to implement the program. That included the cost of purchasing 135 to 175 AEDs for use districtwide.
The average KHSD high school campus is 60 acres, so each school is getting multiple devices to meet the critical three- to four-minute "drop to shock" timeline. A person's odds of survival increase greatly if defibrillated within three minutes.
Centennial now has AEDs in permanent white boxes at the gym, football field, administration office and performing arts center. There's also another one that can be moved around as needed.
"We're really honored that Corinne selected Centennial High School to go first," said Assistant Principal Lloyd Fries. "The real story here is her perseverance in getting this project done. It's an emotional day for her and for all of us, and we're proud of her efforts."
KHSD is covering both the purchase and the ongoing maintenance of the devices.
Batteries cost $60 to $350, depending on the size of the AED, and have to be replaced every four to five years. The pads that deliver the electric shock are $50 a set and need to be replaced every two years.
The Via Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, will maintain the devices. It manages AED programs in schools in Monterey County, Napa County, San Mateo County, Lemoore, Half Moon Bay and now Kern.
Among other things, the Via Foundation coordinates with designated school officials on every campus to check devices monthly to make sure they're working.
Via Foundation maintenance supervisor Joe Kinson was at Centennial Tuesday installing the AEDs.
At each stop, he took a digital photo with an iPad. The picture was geotagged with precise coordinates that were then emailed to CrowdSav, a digital application that allows anyone with a smart phone or tablet to find the nearest AED in the event of an emergency.
A person in cardiac arrest who gets defibrillation within three minutes has a 70 percent chance of survival, Kinson said, but every minute that passes without defibrillation reduces the odds of surviving by about 10 percent.
"It takes the fire department about six minutes to get to a school, so if you wait for the ambulance you're already behind the curve," he said.
Via Foundation Executive Director Liz Lazar said KHSD should be applauded for its leadership on the issue.
"It is not very common for a whole district, especially the size of Kern's, to not only agree to implement AEDs but also budget and pay for them," she said. "Most of the school AEDs we manage were donated by hospitals, healthcare districts, etc."
Hall Ambulance personnel have been training school employees in the use of AEDs, but the devices KHSD purchased are designed to be used by even those who do not have medical training.
In the event of an emergency, the devices provide step-by-step audio instructions.
"It's really simple," Kinson said. "You just turn it on and it literally tells you how to do it."
Bakersfield mom Joy Byrom is the founder of the local chapter of Mended Little Hearts, a support group for children with congenital heart defects.
She said she was "very, very excited" about KHSD's efforts.
"My son's heart could probably stop at any time, so obviously this is something that will make me relax a little bit sending him to high school," Byrom said.