TWIN FALLS — An 80-year-old man was leaving after a Declo school basketball game in December when he collapsed and his heart stopped beating.
There was an automated external defibrillator in a nearby hallway. Spectators from the game started doing CPR on the man and used the defibrillator. After one shock, the man’s heart started beating again. He was airlifted to St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center and had a “really good outcome,” Cassia County school nurse Kyle Hodges said.
Just a month earlier, a Buhl High School student was stung by wasps during a soccer game at Declo High School and went into anaphylactic shock. A school secretary ran into the school to grab an EpiPen and a coach administered the injection. The boy was transported to a hospital.
More Magic Valley schools are seeking funding — such as through grants — to add automated external defibrillators and EpiPens to campuses. Schools often serve as community gathering places with students, family members and the general public coming in for athletic events and performances. And in an emergency, a quick response is crucial.
“It’s really important to recognize these emergency devices save lives,” Hodges said.
Last week, St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center donated three AEDs to the Twin Falls School District, purchased using a grant from the hospital’s Children’s Advisory Committee.
All of the Twin Falls School District’s middle and high schools already had an AED. Employees receive training, but so far, the devices have never been used.
The school district is now working toward having one defibrillator in every elementary school. Morningside Elementary School is the only elementary campus that has one now, which was paid for by a grant.
In addition to working with St. Luke’s, the school district will likely look at ways to speed up the process of getting an AED for every school, said director of operations Ryan Bowman. “It’s something we’re really working toward.”
But “having one in the school isn’t necessarily where we should stop,” he said. At a large school campus with multiple buildings like Twin Falls High School, there could be a long distance to get to the AED.
A hurdle, though, is the cost — often at least $2,000 for the device, pads and cabinet.
Defibrillation is the delivery of an electric shock to restore the heart’s normal rhythm. When someone goes into cardiac arrest, “minutes can be the difference between life or death,” Bowman said. With having defibrillators in schools, “if it saves one person, it’s worth it.”
Automated external defibrillators
In Twin Falls, defibrillators will be added at two more elementary schools within the next week, thanks to the St. Luke’s donation. One will be at I.B. Perrine Elementary School because a student’s care plan includes a doctor recommendation to have one on site, Bowman said. The other school hasn’t been selected yet.
The AEDs are user-friendly. “They’re great because they’re easy to use,” Bowman said. The devices “speak” out loud to give step-by-step instructions about performing CPR, a reminder to call 9-1-1 and how to use the defibrillator.
“It takes you through the whole process,” Bowman said.
There’s often a concern about non-medical personnel using the devices, he said, but there are built-in safety measures. Once pads are placed on a patient’s chest, the equipment monitors whether a heart rate is detected and if the person needs an electric shock.
“If there’s no need for it, it won’t do it,” Bowman said.
In Jerome, each school campus has as defibrillator. In the middle and high schools, it’s kept in the gymnasium or nearby. Elementary schools keep theirs in a central location in a major hallway.
School nurse Kathy Fagerland — who’s new to the job this school year — said the previous school nurse received a St. Luke’s grant within the last three years to purchase defibrillators. They haven’t been used.
In Cassia County, with students who have medical conditions and may be 45 minutes from a hospital, “you kind of look at safety and those kinds of things a little bit differently,” Hodges said.
She heard about a school in American Falls using an AED to save an athlete’s life. She started going to Cassia County service clubs to seek donations. The school district’s first AED was installed in the King Fine Arts Center in Burley.
Now, the school district has 18. Two are designated for athletics and coaches can check one out to take on the road. Last week, Hodges wrote a grant for three more — enough for the three remaining Cassia County schools without one: Almo Elementary School, Declo Elementary School and the Preschool Center in Burley.
Some school districts — including Twin Falls, Jerome and Cassia County — have EpiPens for every school campus. The device contains epinephrine to treat severe allergic reactions.
Both Jerome and Cassia County received the devices through the EpiPen4Schools program, operated by pharmaceutical manufacturer Mylan. Cassia County School District received 18 cabinets with EpiPens for children and adults last year. Before that, schools didn’t have them.
EpiPen maker Mylan has come under fire in recent years, though. It finalized a $465-million government agreement last year settling allegations it overbilled Medicaid for its emergency allergy injectors for a decade — charges brought after rival Sanofi filed a whistleblower lawsuit and tipped off the government.
It’s the second settlement with the Department of Justice that Mylan has made since 2009 to end allegations it overcharged the government for its medicines.
Mylan raised the list price per two-pack of EpiPens from $94 in 2007 to $608 last year. Experts estimate that producing one EpiPen costs less than $10.
For many who have severe allergies, it’s crucial to have an EpiPen and it can be lifesaving. Last week at a Cassia County elementary school reading event, a second-grade girl ate a cookie with macadamia nuts thinking they were white chocolate chips, Hodges said. She had an allergic reaction and her mother gave her a shot with an EpiPen she was carrying with her.
It’s a scenario everyone hopes children will never encounter. But if they do, schools and parents want to be prepared.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.