Saving kids who suffer sudden cardiac arrest




Riley partners with a northern Indiana school to achieve the Heart Safe School designation, advocating for training in the proper use of automated external defibrillators.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

As a cardiologist at Riley Hospital for Children, Dr. Adam Kean has a vested interest in the heart health of young Hoosiers.

That’s why he is championing a new program supported by Riley that aims to save the lives of children around the state who experience sudden cardiac arrest.

Project ADAM (no relation to Dr. Kean) is named for a Wisconsin high school basketball player who died after collapsing on the court in 1997. Designed to improve cardiac arrest preparedness in schools and other places where young people gather, it encourages partnerships between healthcare affiliates and schools to establish emergency plans and cardiac response teams.

Project Adam Heart Safe School Designation

Riley Hospital is the first Indiana affiliate of the program, and last week certified its first Heart Safe School in northern Indiana after observing a series of drills with staff and students using automated external defibrillators (AEDs) and CPR.

“It went quite well,” Dr. Kean said of the certification exercise. “The students were responsive to the emergency as presented … and there was a phenomenal amount of excitement and initiative toward developing more and more centers where AEDs are positioned and to try to get as many students and faculty involved as possible.”

Tonya Aerts is leading the charge for heart health at her school. She isn’t a doctor, but she is a teacher, and the deaths of three teenage boys from undiagnosed heart defects – one of them at her school – broke her heart and convinced her that she needed to do more to save young lives.

Aerts teaches biomedical sciences at New Prairie High School in New Carlisle, Indiana, and is an adviser for a co-curricular team for future healthcare professionals. She was on hand May 24, watching proudly as her school community worked together to “save” lives, demonstrating appropriate response times and the proper use of an AED on a mannequin.

She is passionate about educating students and staff about the use of AEDs when necessary to save lives.

“It saddens me beyond belief that there are so many … incidents of sudden cardiac arrest on school campuses and it just keeps happening,” she said.

She can’t shake the feeling that more could have been done to prevent these deaths, and that has motivated her to push hard for this school-wide drill and better training.

Aerts added that she and other staff are trained to protect students in the event of a fire, tornado or an active shooter, but not enough people were trained in the use of the school’s nine AEDs to restore heart rhythm in someone suffering cardiac arrest.

“In all my classes today, I had AED drills,” she said earlier last month. “The kids are wanting it; we slide a mannequin in, and boom, they know what to do. We are trying to change the culture to being rescue-ready.”

Dr. Kean, who has a specific interest in heart rhythm problems, became aware of Project ADAM when he was training at the University of Michigan 12 years ago.

His goal, like Project ADAM’s, is to prevent tragedies like Adam’s death and scores of others. As the largest children’s hospital in the state, Riley’s mission is to save lives, but that extends beyond the hospital’s walls into the wider community.

And that requires education and training, specifically in the proper use of AEDs.

Many schools have AEDs, but not enough people onsite truly know how to use them.

Practice with AEDs

“It’s all well and good to have the equipment, but you have to practice with it,” Dr. Kean said. “That’s where the Heart Safe designation is key. We want everyone around to feel empowered to use one of these things in an emergency. There is phenomenal data to support the fact that … if there is a tragedy, we can come to the rescue, and when I say ‘we,’ I mean we as a community, not just as a hospital.”

For that to happen, he added, there needs to be a level of training and understanding that comes from partnerships. In this case, it would be a partnership between Riley and any school that wants to achieve the designation of Heart Safe School.

While New Prairie High School is the first school Riley is partnering with in the state, it won’t be the last. Another school, likely in the Indianapolis area, is expected to achieve the designation later this year.

“Our goal is not to have every child in the state come to Riley Hospital,” Dr. Kean said. “That’s the exact opposite of our goal. We want to take care of the children who need our expertise in Indianapolis, but we’d much prefer for every child to be well at home, and this is a program that supports that.”

Photos provided by New Prairie High School

Related Doctor

Adam C. Kean, MD, MPH, FHRS

Adam C. Kean, MD, MPH, FHRS

Pediatric Cardiology