When young athletes step onto the field for a game of football, basketball, soccer, or any other sport, they never imagine that they could end the afternoon rolled into an ambulance with paramedics frantically working to preserve their lives. Sadly, though, such emergencies have happened before. In some cases, pre-existing heart abnormalities go unnoticed for many years until the heart is stressed to its limit during the intensity of athletic competition. Conditions such as heat, dehydration, and fatigue can further exacerbate the situation. For athletes who suffer from sudden cardiac emergencies during competition, life may depend on the presence of an automated external defibrillator.
Automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, can rapidly restore the heart’s rhythm when applied promptly by a trained professional. In essence, AEDs work on the same principle as the defibrillators used by paramedics in emergency rooms. They deliver an electrical charge that can stabilize the heart when its normal rhythm is disrupted. For a high school athlete who collapses due to a heart defect or malfunction, every second counts. According to the National Institutes of Health, every minute of sudden cardiac arrest reduces survival chances by 10 percent. The presence or absence of an AED can determine life or death.
Many high schools in Florida maintain AEDs on site. In fact, the Florida High School Athletic Association requires AEDs at state championship series games. But the FHSAA does not require schools to keep AEDs for regular season contests, although the organization strongly recommends them. Some smaller schools consider the cost of an AED – usually from $1,500 to $2,000, according to the American Heart Association, an obstacle. Yet for athletes who plunge into sudden cardiac arrest, no investment makes a bigger difference. As reported by the St. Augustine Record, swift application of an AED saved the life of a St. Joseph Academy girls basketball player who collapsed on the court in December 2013.