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Indiana lawmakers seeking to reduce student deaths from sudden cardiac arrest

Dan Carden

Jake West, his mother, Julie, and others inspired by him are continuing to make a difference for Indiana student-athletes, and students generally, nearly a decade after Jake died of sudden cardiac arrest during football practice at LaPorte High School.

Their latest effort focuses on ensuring automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are more readily available at games, practices and performances of school sports teams, marching bands and all other student extracurriculars involving physical activity.

“Losing a child is every parent’s nightmare. Jake would be 27 this year,” said Julie West. “I know installing AEDs might not save every young athlete who suffers sudden cardiac arrest at school but saving just one life — knowing that another family could be spared the pain we have endured — would make this fight worth it.”

West testified Wednesday to the House Education Committee in favor of Senate Bill 369, also known as “Jake’s Law,” which would require coaches, band leaders and others in charge of student teams and activities to ensure an AED is accessible within three minutes at every practice, event or game.

The legislation also would obligate coaches and activity leaders to be trained in how to use an AED, and schools would have to develop venue-specific emergency action plans for sudden cardiac arrest showing the location of the nearest AED and instructions for its use.

Jake West was 17 when he collapsed and died Sept. 25, 2013, at Kiwanis Field. His mother said the people who administered first aid to Jake did the best they could with the resources they had, but the availability today of low-cost, portable AEDs means other students need not suffer the same fate.

“If we aren’t prepared when we know what needs to be done, then we are to blame,” West said. “I want to hear more stories of survival.”

Laneia Strasser, of Rochester, shared her son’s story of survival with the committee. She said Drew Strasser, now 19, experienced sudden cardiac arrest during high school tennis practice and recovered after a teammate and coach used a nearby AED to restart his heart.

She emphasized, however, that luck played a significant role in saving her child’s life. The early morning practice was moved inside the school when the tennis court’s lights wouldn’t come on, putting her son just 10 feet away from an AED when it was needed most.

Tonya Aerts, a teacher at New Prairie High School in LaPorte County, said the legislation will eliminate the need — in an emergency — for someone to try to find an AED in a potentially locked school building by ensuring an AED always is nearby in a known location, along with people trained to use it. “This bill will save countless lives and it is the first step toward creating truly safe schools in Indiana,” Aerts said.

Thanks to Aerts, New Prairie is the first Project ADAM-certified heart safe school in Indiana with readily accessible AEDs and a practiced plan for responding to sudden cardiac arrest.

Aerts said she was inspired to act following the Jan. 23, 2017, sudden cardiac arrest death of 17-year-old Mark Mayfield following an intramural basketball game at the high school.

Approximately 2,000 people under age 25 die in the United States each year from sudden cardiac arrest, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. It’s the leading cause of death for young athletes in America.

John Doherty, a School Town of Munster board member and former athletic trainer, said that statistic spurred him years ago to persuade district leaders to install AEDs throughout school buildings in Munster.

He said data show 89% of young athletes are saved when an AED is on-site and used promptly, just as Damar Hamlin of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills survived thanks to an AED after Hamlin collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest on national television during the Jan. 2, 2023, Monday Night Football game.

The legislation, which passed the Indiana Senate 49-0 last month, does not provide any money for schools to purchase the extra AEDs that would be required if the measure is enacted into law.

However, Aerts said she found the New Prairie community was more than willing to chip in at fundraisers to purchase AEDs after she explained their potential lifesaving benefits. Local hospitals or medical practices also might provide AEDs as part of their sponsorship of student athletics and activities.

Indiana lawmakers seeking to reduce student deaths from sudden cardiac arrest (

Indiana lawmakers seeking to reduce student deaths from sudden cardiac arrest
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