Defibrillators in Texas Schools Save Lives Thanks to Unique Law

In August 2012, an art teacher for the Frisco Independent School District collapsed suddenly while she was working at the Curtsinger Elementary School campus.[1] During the summer of 2011, a health teacher at Watauga Middle School in north Texas collapsed, unconscious, in the school’s gym.[2] In October of that year, a Lewisville boy collapsed on his middle school’s soccer field and “turned blue.”[3] And in September of 2011, a twelve-year-old girl collapsed in the hallway of Maus Middle School while she was walking to class.[4] During that same month, an Azle Junior High School football player went unconscious after taking a hard tackle during a football game.[5] Earlier that year, in March, a six-year-old Pflugerville boy collapsed while playing at Brookhollow Elementary School, the third such incident in the district.[6] In March of 2010, a high school football player in Pearland collapsed at the start of his team’s practice.[7] That same month, a high school girl at Timber Creek High also collapsed during her chemistry class.[8]

These students and educators (in addition to many others) were all victims of sudden cardiac arrest, often the result of ventricular fibrillation arising from congenital Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) or Long QT Syndrome. Another, trauma-induced cause of sudden cardiac arrest is commotio cordis, a condition resulting from a powerful blow to the chest that disrupts the electrical system that regulates a beating heart.[9] Sudden cardiac arrest is often fatal because once a victim’s heart stops beating, his or her brain is deprived of oxygen, and in only minutes, brain damage, and then death, occur.[10]

“Less than eight percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest outside the hospital survive.”[11] Thus, instances of sudden cardiac arrest in Texas schools were almost always fatal, and multiple students had died on school campuses because educators did not have the tools or training necessary to save these students in a cardiac emergency. But things have changed. Since the passage of Senate Bill 7 in 2007, at least two dozen students and adults have been saved by automated external defibrillators (AEDs) at their schools because S.B. 7 requires that schools place an AED on every campus and train personnel in how to use them.[12] Additionally, the state provided $9 million in funding to reimburse schools for the cost of purchasing AEDs so that the law would not create a financial hardship for schools.[13]

In 2007, Athena worked for State Senator Juan Hinojosa, the author of S.B. 7. In constructing the bill, she spent countless hours talking to the University Interscholastic League (U.I.L.), the American Heart Association, cardiologists, and parents about the most effective means of placing AEDs in schools and developing emergency plans for when sudden cardiac arrest is suspected. Soon after the bill was filed, Lieutenant Governor Dewhurst put his support behind it,[14] and he designated the bill as priority legislation, thus ensuring it would be expedited through the legislative process. Upon passage, the bill was ceremoniously signed by Governor Perry at the field house of Westlake High School. Present was Matt Nader, a Westlake football player who had been saved by an AED during a football game the previous year.

Athena worked on dozens of bills during her three legislative sessions as a policy analyst for Senator Hinojosa, but the work she did on Senate Bill 7 will always be particularly rewarding for her because it has saved lives and spared families the pain of losing loved ones to sudden cardiac arrest. This means the bill has been working as intended, something that doesn’t always happen in public policy. Even the most well-meaning legislation can go awry when implemented. Fortunately, through respectful collaboration and careful drafting, S.B. 7 has proven to be not only “the most comprehensive AED bill in the country” as declared by TIME Magazine,[15] but a truly effective piece of public policy that has made our schools safer for students and educators.


[1] http://www.khou.com/news/texas-news/182976041.html

[2] http://www.star-telegram.com/2011/06/03/3126713/automated-external-defibrillator.html

[3] http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/health/Eighth-Grader-Who-Nearly-Died-Returns-to-School-133409913.html

[4] http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/44842240/ns/today-today_news/t/quick-thinking-teachers-revive-girl-after-collapse/#.UOYBNXdrS-U

[5] http://www.wfaa.com/news/local/Azle-football-player–130312313.html

[6] http://www.kvue.com/news/Six-year-old-boys-heart-stops-at-school-survival-miraculous-114387424.html

[7] http://www.chron.com/sports/high-school/article/Defibrillator-quick-thinking-save-life-of-1694963.php

[8] http://www.firstaidcorps.org/2010/04/09/staff-saves-high-school-sophomore/#axzz2GxAPZGfT

[9] Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, Causes of SCA in Kids, http://www.sca-aware.org/schools/causes-of-sca-in-kids.

[10] Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, Heart Information Center: Sudden Cardiac arrest, http://www.texasheartinstitute.org/HIC/Topics/Cond/SCA.cfm.

[11] American Heart Association, CPR Statistics, http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/CPRAndECC/WhatisCPR/CPRFactsandStats/CPR-Statistics_UCM_307542_Article.jsp.

[12] Tex. Educ. Code §§ 38.017­, 38.018.

[13] General Appropriations Act, H.B. 1, 80th Leg. Art. IX § 19.86 (Tex. 2007), available at http://www.lbb.state.tx.us/GAA/General_Appropriations_Act_2008-09.pdf.

[14] Lt. Governor David Dewhurst Announces Filing of Public School Defibrillator Legislation, Feb. 27, 2007, available at http://www.ltgov.state.tx.us/prview.php?id=138.

[15] Carolyn Sayre, Saving Athletes From Cardiac Arrest, TIME Magazine, May 2007, available at http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1618058,00.html.