Families Win Fight for School AEDs with Legislation

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Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)


Many parents across the state who have children with heart conditions breathed a sigh of relief on Jan. 13 when Mass. Gov. Charles Baker signed the Montigny AED Bill S.2449 into law.

The bill mandates that automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, be present in all public schools or on school campuses and at least one staff member certified in the proper use of the device. Additionally, an AED and trained personnel must also be readily available at any school-sponsored athletic event.
Sterling residents Steve and Barri Godbout have been an integral part of a local coalition of families, including the Maki family from Lancaster and the Thibodeau family from Holden, who have crusaded for the movement to require AEDs be present in schools. The Godbouts have been educators in public schools for 20 years, but took up the cause of the risk of heart conditions two years ago. Their son, Ben, an athlete, has a heart condition.

Sudden cardiac arrest, or SCA, is a sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness. SCA is the number one killer of student athletes in the United States. The way to save lives is with the availability of AEDs, advocates for the machines said.

“This law will save the lives of students who have diagnosed cardiac conditions and ones who are unaware they may have cardiac conditions,” Barri said. “Further, there are countless adults who pass through schools each and every day including faculty, staff, parents, grandparents, coaches and referees. Schools are truly community centers. Having AEDs in each and every school in our Commonwealth is a long overdue layer of protection.”

According to the American Heart Association, every year more than 300,000 Americans experience an out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest; 90 percent do not survive. AEDs have been proven to greatly enhance survival rates and are simple enough for non-medical personnel to operate, guiding the user through visual and audible prompts. Personnel who use an AED to rescue a victim will be protected from legal liability under the new measure.

The bill is named after its sponsor, Senate Rules Committee Chairman and Assistant Majority Leader Senator Mark Montigny (D-New Bedford). Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito first introduced the legislation over 10 years ago, and it has been introduced and re-introduced in each legislative session since. American Heart Association Senior Director of Government relations Allyson Perron Drag led the Godbouts and other involved families along the process of getting the bill signed into law.

“We have lobbied at the State House with the families and Allyson several times,” Steve said. “This entire initiative and effort was much bigger than Ben or us. It was a long, complicated process that involved research and coordination with the families, Allyson, legislators and staffers on Beacon Hill, school districts, school committees, superintendents, et al.”

State Rep. Kimberly Ferguson (R-Holden) also played a large role in the passage of the AED bill.

“Rep. Ferguson was instrumental in seeing this through,” Steve said. “Each time we went to the State House to lobby, she would personally welcome us and guide us in the right direction. She went out of her way to connect with each of us and our children.”

Steve recalls one visit to the Mass. State House when he and Barri and the other families were sitting in the gallery. Ferguson had composed a letter to persuade Speaker of the Massachusetts House Robert DeLeo, a Democrat, to act on the legislation.

“Between each and every vote we could see (Rep. Ferguson) darting back and forth across the floor gaining the signatures of her colleagues,” Steve said. “She is truly a tireless and passionate representative for her constituents.”

The enactment date of the AED bill is July 2018. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, alongside the Department of Public Health, will work with public schools across the state to help identify funding and strategies to acquire the AED devices.

"(Many) families we worked with endured the devastating loss of their children to SCA,” Barri said. The Thibodeaus lost their son, Josh, to a cardiac event while at a soccer camp. Other families involved in the campaign have suffered similar losses. Sue Canning lost her son, Kevin, while swimming. The Ellsessers lost their son, Tim, while swimming and a second son, Michael, on the football field in his final JV game. “Each would have been saved if an AED were present. No family should ever have to experience such loss. Ever. They are the most amazing, courageous and inspiring people we have ever known. It was an honor and privilege to work alongside them.”
Related: Infographic: AEDs and School Athletics

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February 3, 2017


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