Defibrillators arrive to save lives in schools

Installation of 63 Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) began Monday at schools throughout the Federal Way School District.

The AEDs come after several years of fervent fundraising efforts by local school officials, medical authorities and community members.

“I’m excited, I’m so excited,” said Rita Sanson-Sallee as she gathered with school officials at Todd Beamer High School on Monday to celebrate the first AED installation.

Sanson-Sallee began pushing for AEDs at schools after her daughter, Jean Marie Sanson, died of sudden cardiac arrest at a swim meet in September 2000. Jean Marie, 16, would have been a sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School.

An AED would have saved Jean Marie’s life, her mother said. She vowed to work so that no other parent would have to endure the pain she did when her daughter died.

“We started as this little grass-roots committee,” Sanson-Sallee said. “All of a sudden, all these people in the community got behind it... It’s wonderful to see it finally coming true.”

A fundraiser in March raised more than $60,000 to purchase AEDs, which cost $1,700 each. Several community members also donated AEDs to the cause.

“We’re trying to cover all schools to the point where they’re five minutes away from the victim,” said Deb Stenberg, school district spokeswoman.

Each Federal Way school and district building will have at least one AED on site this year. It is estimated that with the availability of AEDs, the survival rate of sudden cardiac arrest victims increases from 5 percent to 75 percent.

Schools are one of the top three places the American Heart Association

recommends placing AEDs.

Estimates show that nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population steps foot onto a school’s property each day. Those people include students, teachers, parents, staff and vendors.

AEDs allow bystanders to quickly help a sudden cardiac arrest victim while professional aid is on the way.

With each minute that goes by after sudden cardiac arrest, the victim’s survival rate drops by 10 percent, said Suzi Crickmore, a spokeswoman for Philips Heart Start defibrillators.

“The untrained, unskilled rescuer can use this,” Crickmore said of the AEDs.

The devices are about the size of a large telephone book and weigh less than 10 pounds. They are posted on walls in key locations

on campus and labeled with a sign. Similar to fire extinguishers, the AEDs are encased in glass and an alarm goes off if the device is removed.

After it is turned on, the AED tells the user where to place the pads on the victim’s bare chest.

It analyzes heart rhythm and determines whether the victim needs a shock.

“It will not allow you to push the shock button unless you’re in ventricular fibrillation,” Crickmore said.

The device also instructs the user on performing CPR and reminds them to call 911.

“If we can change one outcome, it’s been worth every moment,” Crickmore said.

Contact Margo Horner: or (253) 925-5565.

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