Senate Committee Advances Bill To Protect Child Athletes From Sudden Cardiac Arrest

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Sen. Joseph Vitale

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale that would require schools, recreational departments and youth camps to have automated external defibrillators (AED) for youth athletic events was unanimously approved today by the Senate Education Committee.

The bill is an attempt to reduce the number of youth athletes who die from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) – a condition where the heart’s electrical system malfunctions and stops pumping blood to the rest of the body, often without any visible symptoms.

“In the US, an estimated 7,000 children die each year from sudden cardiac arrest with student athletes two to three times more likely to suffer and die from this silent killer,” said Vitale (D-Middlesex). “By simply having an automated external defibrillator on hand at sporting events and practices and training coaches and staff to properly use these life-saving devices, these deaths could be prevented.”

The bill, S-157, would require that both public and nonpublic kindergarten through twelfth grade schools have an AED available within reasonable proximity of the athletic field or gym where school-sponsored events and team practices take place and that an on-site coach or other staff member is trained in CPR and to use an AED. All municipal or county recreation departments, nonprofit youth-serving organizations and youth camps must also have an AED accessible to athletic events and practices with at least one umpire, coach, counselor or staff member trained in CPR and use of an AED. A state-certified emergency services provider or other first responder could fulfill this requirement.

Additionally, any public schools with grades six through 12 would be required to provide CPR training as part of their curriculum and high school students would be required to learn how to use an AED.

The bill would give immunity from civil liability to school districts and their employees, recreation departments and youth-serving organizations, and youth camps and their employees for use of an AED.

“Many schools already have defibrillators on hand during school hours, but they are locked up and not available after school and during sporting events,” added Vitale. “Since there is a critical three to five minute window during which someone in sudden cardiac arrest has the greatest chance of survival, it is imperative that schools, recreation centers and camps have the necessary equipment easily accessible, an emergency action plan in place and trained staff members available so that these children can be resuscitated and their lives can be saved.”

“Janet’s Law” was named for Janet Zilinski, an eleven-year-old Warren girl who in 2006 went into sudden cardiac arrest during cheerleading practice. A nurse on site administered CPR and she was rushed to a nearby hospital where she eventually passed away.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, if a heart in sudden cardiac arrest is defibrillated within the first minute, there is a 90 percent chance that the patient will survive. Survival rates decrease 10 percent for every minute a person in SCA waits to be defibrillated. Early defibrillation is the most critical step for survival for someone experiencing SCA.

An automated external defibrillator is a portable device that is used to restore heart rhythms to patients in cardiac arrest. It automatically analyzes the heart rhythm of the patient and advises the user whether or not a shock is needed to return the patient to a normal heartbeat.

The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further review.


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