Sheridan receives emergency lifesaving unit

Project places cardiac treatment gear in Tacoma schools

3/14/2017 | TACOMA, Washington

What’s smaller than a hatbox, talks, can save your life, and coming to all Tacoma schools?

An Automatic External Defibrillator, or AED. The small, portable units diagnose and treat sudden cardiac arrest and other heart rhythm problems, literally talking a rescuer through the step-by-step procedure. All Tacoma high schools and middle schools have the units, thanks to the work of the Puget Sound Heart Project, a non-profit created by families affected by sudden cardiac arrest.

Sheridan Elementary School received its AED March 10, and soon all Tacoma elementary schools will have them as well.

“This project started about three years ago,” said Tacoma School Board member Karen Vialle. “In our community and across the country, sudden cardiac arrest happens more often than we think. This has been a pet project for me. When I was teaching here at Sheridan Elementary years ago one of our playground supervisors had a heart attack, and she was not in good shape. Luckily our school nurse was able to treat her until help arrived. So there is a need, for our students, our staff and our community.”

Tacoma resident Carol Mathewson, who survived a sudden cardiac arrest during the swimming portion of a triathlon in 2008 thanks to treatment with an AED, placed Sheridan’s new unit in its white steel enclosure on the wall, with Puget Sound Heart Project co-founder Angela Taylor. Since her near-death experience, Mathewson has volunteered with the project.

“I was one of the fortunate few who survived,” said Mathewson, who now has a defibrillator permanently implanted in her chest. “Someone dies every two minutes in this country from a sudden cardiac arrest. A young person dies every three days from sudden cardiac arrest. When I was in the triathlon, there were people there who were trained to save lives, and that’s what they did with me. So I’m very happy to be here, and promoting CPR training and making AED’s available in public buildings like schools is definitely our passion.”

The new AED unit sits in an easily-accessed steel box on the wall just inside the main entrance door at Sheridan. The Puget Sound Heart Project’s stated goal: An AED available within three minutes or less at every school.

The units cost $1,000 each, and Taylor estimated that so far the group has raised and spent more than $42,000 installing AED’s in the middle and high schools. With 34 more Tacoma elementary schools remaining to cover—and then the other Pierce County school districts in the future—PSHP’s work is far from over.

John Gould, also a Puget Sound Heart Project volunteer and another sudden cardiac arrest survivor who owes his life to quick treatment with an AED, smiled as Mathewson completed the installation.

“Today is five years for me (since my sudden cardiac arrest), and I’m very grateful to be here,” Gould said. “I’m here because somebody was able to learn the benefits of using CPR and an AED, and you never know when it’s going to come in handy. To be a hero, well, you can be a hero any time. And I’m feeling good about being alive.”