Beating the odds

Mandated for all Oregon public schools by 2015, defibrillators could mean difference between life and death for cardiac victims at sports and other events
Laure Trickel, a coronary care unit nurse at Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford, stands next to a defibrillator machine near the large gym Friday at Ashland Middle School.Julia Moore

When a former North Medford High School student fell to the ground in cardiac arrest during college basketball practice at Utah State University last weekend, a team trainer was able to revive the 22-year-old using an automated external defibrillator machine.

Danny Berger, a 2008 North Medford grad, was shocked with an AED machine between bouts of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and his heartbeat returned even before paramedics arrived.

The school had followed recommendations from the medical community that AEDs be placed around training areas in the event of such an emergency, though no law required that a machine be on campus.

"You never know what's going to happen, and you could be the first responder," said Laure Trickel, a coronary care unit nurse at Rogue Regional Medical Center in Medford.

Trickel said young, seemingly healthy athletes can be the victims of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscle is unexpectedly thickened, sending a person to the ground in an instant.

After two high school seniors suffered from cardiac arrest in Ashland in 2000 and 2001, Trickel and others began asking local hospitals to consider donating AED machines to schools for use if similar incidents occurred.

Over the next few years, machines were placed in every public high school and middle school in Jackson County, and staff and students were trained at a number of sites.

A law approved by the Oregon Legislature in 2010 requires every public school in Oregon to have an AED on campus by 2015, without the help of any state funding.

The Phoenix-Talent School District has had AEDs at each of its five schools and the district office for a few years now, though the schools haven't had to use the machines yet, according to district office secretary Louise Peterson.

Trickel said that securing the machines in schools is important not just for students, but for parents and the public who visit schools for sporting events and other activities.

"It's a community place," said Trickel, who hopes that schools have maintained the AEDs she helped them acquire over the past decade.

A 16-year old boy who collapsed during a physical education class earlier this year at Eagle Point High School was brought out of cardiac arrest with help from an AED machine.

His P.E. teacher was able to use the machine while taking turns with other staff members in giving the student chest compressions.

Within a week, the district had ordered AED machines for every school, and all should be installed by now, according to Allen Barber, district human resources director.

The average cost of an AED machine is about $2,300, according to the Red Cross, which reports that about 200,000 Americans die of sudden cardiac arrest each year.

Trickel said she shops around for machines and has seen reliable devices for less than $2,300, but the price doesn't take into account the cost of training people to use the machines.

"People need to know how to use them," said Grant Walker, spokesman for RRMC. "I've seen places that have AED machines in closets where no one knows how to use them."

Trickel said she encourages schools to offer a training program to students to teach them how to use AED machines, which provide audio prompts to users.

"A 12-year-old could use it; it talks to you," said Trickel.

Rather than requiring school officials or other operators to be trained in the use of an AED, the 2010 Oregon law actually loosened restrictions for people who operate AED machines.

The Good Samaritan clause of the law was added to protect well-intentioned people using AED machines from being subjected to potential lawsuits.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or

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