One teenager from Pascack Hills High School provided powerful testimony in Lodi on Tuesday on the importance of a new state mandate that requires high school staff and students be equipped and trained in life-saving techniques in the event of cardiac emergencies.
“I know that I’m standing here today because of an AED machine and individuals who were properly trained,” Anthony Cortazzo said of the automated external defibrillator.
Cortazzo, now a senior at the high school in Montvale, was at track practice in March when he collapsed and went into sudden cardiac arrest. Others on the field began to administer cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and Steve Papa, athletic trainer at the school, rushed to the field with an AED.
By the time an ambulance arrived, Cortazzo had a pulse and was breathing. Papa credits the “chain of survival” established at the school with the happy outcome.
Cortazzo suffered from a previously undetected congenital heart defect and soon underwent open heart surgery. He has been gaining strength since and plans to return to the football field in the next couple of weeks.
His story and others like it are rare but not uncommon, experts say, and have prompted the new legislation, which went into effect in September.
Every K-12 school in New Jersey is required to have at least one AED and staff trained in how to use it and perform CPR. A second law also requires high school students to be trained in CPR and AED use.
It is up to school districts to determine how to implement the latter law, which begins with this year’s freshman class. Most of the training will be done as part of health class, advocates said.
Lodi got two grants from non-profit groups – the Force for Health and Sudden Cardiac Arrest foundations — to help with the training. Honor students from the high school were being schooled in the essentials on Tuesday at the Boys and Girls Club, where an AED was donated by the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation. Michael Nardino, executive director of the club, said the facility’s AED – used to save a bingo player at a club event a few years ago – had been destroyed in a flood in 2012.
New AEDs cost about $1,200 but recertified ones cost about $450, said Mary Newman of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation. She said about 1,000 people are stricken with sudden cardiac arrest daily, and of those 26 are young people. The average survival rate is less than 10 percent but that jumps to 40 percent when CPR and a defibrillator are used, she said.
She and other experts noted that cardiac arrest is most likely to occur at home so that the training students received could be used to save family and friends.
Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-Paterson), sponsor of the legislation and longtime local coach, said he believed there were enough resources available for districts to implement the legislation without much cost.
In Lodi, for instance, the district is availing itself of an app and online curriculum created by the Force for Health Foundation. Schools can also get donations of AEDs and several advocacy groups in New Jersey can help.
JoAnne Taylor Babbitt of Chatham created a foundation named for her son John, who died of sudden cardiac arrest in 2006, and the organization has donated a number of defibrillators to needy groups. The Gregory M. Hirsch Heart Foundation provides heart screening for local schools. Fred Hirsch of Lodi started the foundation after his son died from an undetected heart condition 13 years ago.
The heightened awareness and the new training are important, said Frank Quatrone, superintendent of schools in Lodi. “It’s vital for students to have this type of training,” Quatrone said. “It can increase the survival rate.”
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