For the third time, a bill that would provide grants to put heart-shocker machines in all US schools is making the rounds in Congress. And, an obstacle that’s stopped this bill before could once again halt it.
More than a decade ago, 15 year old Josh Miller collapsed on the sidelines of the final football game of the season at Barberton High School. Akron cardiologist Terry Gordon has been haunted since he saw a video of what happened that night in October 2000. He’s convinced an automatic external defibrillator, or AED, could have saved Josh by shocking his heart back into beating. Gordon started working on getting AEDs in Ohio’s public schools, and then took his campaign national, pushing for a program to create federal grants to help all public schools get the machines. A bill to do that introduced by Democratic Representative Betty Sutton of Akron passed the US House in June of 2008, but failed in the US Senate.
“And since that time – June 2008 – 206 children have died of a cardiac arrest in schools across the country. And that is a direct result of the inaction of our legislators to pass this very, very important bill. It’s a travesty,” said Sutton.
It was introduced again in the next Congress, and failed to become law. And so for the third time, Gordon is hoping to see passage of the Josh Miller HEARTS Act – Hearts stands for Helping Everyone Access Responsive Treatment in Schools. This time it has Ohio’s senior senator as its chief backer. Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown knows the fight over this bill has never been about the need for AEDs – it’s been about the money to pay for them.
“This is not very much money, but it’s tough budget times and the money has to come from somewhere, and that’s a struggle we’re trying to work through here. We know this saves lives, we know they’re expensive,” said Brown.
Under the bill, federal dollars would pay for three quarters of each AED, which can cost up to $2000, with the school coming up with the remaining quarter. And fiscal conservatives continue to question how to pay for these grants. But Terry Gordon says allowing kids and their families to gather in ball fields, basketball courts and gymnasiums for emotional, physically intense activities is – in his words – “like sending a police officer to a gunfight without providing bullets.”
“I believe in fiscal responsibility. But there are certain things that have to transcend that,” said Gordon.
And with the bill failing to pass in his chamber twice before, and with it still needing to get through a Republican-run House, Brown says it’s up to lawmakers to argue for funding these machines.
“The case continues to grow as more people are knowledgeable about it. That’s why we have a chance in a congress that is paying more attention to budget issues than maybe 10 years ago,” said Brown.
Brown’s office says the average survival rate for victims of sudden cardiac arrest is less than 8%, but cities with comprehensive AED programs have seen survival rates above 40%.