NORMAL — A local foundation wants to add or replace lifesaving automated external defibrillators (AEDs) at all McLean County schools and will begin this long-term effort this winter at rural schools farthest from first responders.
"We're trying to be the conduit at no cost to the schools," said Kathi Franklin, executive director of the Normal-based Illinois Heart & Lung Foundation, which has led McLean County's AED placement efforts since 2001.
"Our goal is to save a life," Franklin said.
The foundation is working on this latest chapter in its Operation Revive with the Regional Office of Education. While the Bloomington-based regional office covers four counties, Operation Revive is focusing for now on McLean County schools, said Regional Superintendent Mark Jontry.
"Anytime we can get support from the community and outside groups in a strategic manner to help us meet state requirements, at little to no cost to the districts, is helpful," Jontry said Monday.
"Any initiative like that is outstanding," said Brian Evans, director of safety and security for Bloomington District 87.
AEDs can restore heart rhythm to someone experiencing sudden cardiac arrest, which happens when heartbeat stops abruptly. Every minute of delayed defibrillation decreases a person's chance of survival by 7 to 10 percent.
When someone's heart stops, bystanders should call 911, begin chest compressions and yell for someone to grab the nearest AED.
More than 160 AEDs in McLean County are registered with 911. Thanks to community donations, Illinois Heart & Lung has donated 137 AEDs over the years to McLean County first responders (police and fire departments), youth organizations and nonprofits, Franklin said.
Lives have been saved by people using AEDs, including the life of University High School student Kai Bates-Diop, who collapsed after experiencing sudden cardiac arrest on the gym floor during basketball practice Feb. 9. How many lives have been saved in McLean County isn't known because "saves" haven't been tracked.
"We're trying to create safety zones for those student-athletes, school staff and attendees at school event," Franklin said.
For several years, state law has required each school to have at least one AED. Originally, the state covered half the cost, with each district picking up the other half, Jontry said.
"But that hasn't been funded (by the state) for a couple of years," Jontry said.
Franklin's concern is that some schools have aging AEDs that haven't been serviced or replaced. Another concern is that larger schools should have a second AED.
District 87 has at least one AED in every district building, larger buildings such as Bloomington High School and Bloomington Junior High School have more than one and some staff have been trained in AED use in every building, Evans said.
Franklin is particularly concerned about some rural schools that may be a distance away from first responders. The foundation has 10 AEDs, thanks to attendees at a foundation fundraiser in August.
The foundation wants those AEDs to go to rural McLean County schools.
Jontry is reaching out to those schools to determine which ones may need to replace an AED and which ones could use a second AED.
"We'd like to donate the first AED during February, which is Heart Month," Franklin said. The other nine would be delivered shortly thereafter, she said.
As more money is raised, the foundation will acquire more AEDs and donate them to other schools, with the long-term goal of placing a new AED in each McLean County school.
"We hope to never have to use them," Jontry said. "But they're good to have on hand if we ever need them."