Quebec’s Coroner Wants More Public Access to Defibrillation

Yannick and David:

A Call to Action…

On November 12, 2007 12-year-old Yanick Charpentier got into a schoolyard squabble during recess. Name-calling eventually escalated to shoving, and shoving to punches. Yanick took four shots to the back, one in the chest and then collapsed onto the grassy field at Horizon-Soleil Elementary School. He suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that left him vulnerable to a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). He was taken to hospital, but could not be revived. Back in St. Eustache, the Charpentier family, the school’s 500 students and the 11-year-old girl who had punched Yanick were left to wonder how the day had gotten suddenly so awful and to grapple with the consequences.

Last week Quebec Coroner Andree Kronstrom released the findings of her inquest into the death. She ruled that Yanick’s heart condition, physical exertion, emotional state at the time and the fight itself all contributed to his death. She also called the death entirely preventable.

“If there had been access to a defibrillator in the first three minutes, Yanick’s chance of survival would have been much better. […] The police arrived quickly, so if they’d had a defibrillator his chance of survival would have been very good.”

The report goes on to recommend Automated External Defibrillators (AED’s) be in wider circulation, become a staple in most police vehicles, and that elementary and high-school students be trained in CPR. A number of schools faced with, or considering, similar tragedies have already adopted AED programs. In many cases the units, which typically cost $1500- $2000, are paid for by private donations, provincial grants, or fundraising drives by parent-teacher groups. CBC News

…And a Cautionary Tale

Sometimes though when tragedy strikes, and the fallout is handled poorly, the result can be a public relations nightmare for school staff and administrators. Especially if it’s handled like this:

So, why turn an AED down? This one was free, so it can’t have been the price. The argument the board  gives here seems ludicrous. That’s like passing by an oasis in the desert because you didn’t think there’d be enough water to go around. Schools accept donated playground equipment all the time without needing to spread it around the entire district, and they take private donations of critical resources like computers and books without feeling ethically compromised. That leaves two possible reasons: concerns over liability and maintenance costs.

An untreated SCA is always fatal and the only treatment is defibrillation, so legal liability risks surrounding AED use are extremely remote. More people wind up in court for not having an AED than are sued for deploying one. As for costs, annually an AED program’s maintenance runs $500 to $660. Amortized month to month, that’s about $50 for training and equipment.

Times are tough and everyone is tightening their belts, but to prevent a tragedy, especially when you’ve already had a death at your school, this seems like a bargain. According to the BC Heart and Stroke Foundation, about 50 new cases of children with heart conditions are discovered in that province each year.

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