Headline: Educators balk at funding defibrillators

SubHed: District has $1.7 million in surplus funds

By Larry Moniz

WEST MILFORD — For the sake of not spending some $15,000, school officials are
putting the lives of students, parents, teachers and everyone who visits the schools
at needless risk.

Claiming he’s been stalled by school officials for five years, Oak Ridge resident
Gary Gentile charged during the Nov. 16 meeting of the Board of Education that
officials have repeatedly ignored requests to buy and install automated external
defibrillators (AEDs) in each school and at each athletic field. The total estimated
cost for seven units was estimated at $15,000. Currently the school system has two,
bought and donated by the Class of 2003 and by the West Milford Rotary Club.

Antiquated ‘thump’ worked

During the public forum portion of the regular school board meeting, Gentile
recounted how his son Kevin, then in eighth grade, collapsed five years ago while in
the lunch line at Macopin Middle School. Those who immediately went to his aid
discovered a heart beating out of control. By the time the school nurse arrived,
minutes later, Kevin’s heart had stopped, as had his breathing, his father said.
Among the first aid procedures was application of a precordial thump.

"It’s not actually something they even teach anymore in CPR classes because it very
rarely works. However, it can, in some instances, create enough electrical energy
that the heart will restart. In Kevin’s case it did. If Kevin’s heart hadn’t been
restarted, he would have died," even with best efforts of the school nurse, Gentile
told the school board. "The only thing that would have saved his life at that point
was a defibrillator." At that time, there were only two in the county, and none in
West Milford, he added.

Police ill-equipped

Police arrived, equipped solely with an oxygen bottle. Gentile said his son was
taken to Chilton Memorial Hospital where he was examined and told me might have low
blood sugar, then released.

"We took him to a cardiologist... was tested... and came home wearing an event
monitor that would hopefully record any further problems. Ten days later while he
was walking to home room, he collapsed again," Gentile recalled. He was revived,
"but this time we had a four minute recording of his heart rhythm on the event
monitor. He was transported to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City where
he was diagnosed with HCM, Hypertropic Cardiomyopathy. While at Columbia, Kevin
required surgery to implant a pacemaker and a defibrillator in him."

"HCM causes sudden cardiac death in people of all ages. These events have made us
acutely aware of the need for AEDs in all our schools. Many children, teachers,
administrators, parents and guests pass through the school buildings everyday. Any
one of these people could, at any time, benefit from an AED being on the premises.
In a cardiac emergency, every minute counts.

Town’s vastness is problem

"Because of the size of our township you cannot rely on the police or the first aids
squads to respond in time. We’re just simply too big. Kevin is now a senior in high
school, and over the past four years we have spoken with Mr. Johnson (Ray Johnson,
Macopin Middle School principal), Mr. McCormick (high school Principal Michael
McCormick) and Mr. Cea (Steven Cea, the school system’s business administrator)
about AEDs. We were told the devices were included in the Macopin and high school
budgets. However, to date, none have been purchased by the board of education.

Gentile also took issue with placement of the existing units. He said one is kept in
the nurse’s office and

"because it doesn’t have the proper housing box, when she goes home and locks her
door, the AED is inaccessible. The second device is kept by the athletic trainer and
also is inaccessible after school hours."

Other school systems have programs that place defibrillators in every school,
Gentile asserted, adding: "This might be something our school system could also

"The facts you stated are accurate," said school Supt. Robert Gilmartin, adding that
"we could use seven more." However he said they aren’t in the budget, and called
upon volunteer groups to provide the funding. "Hopefully we might be able to
accomplish it this year, but I don’t want to put too much pressure on parent (PTA)

Many students have died

Also speaking to the board was Lisa Salberg, president of the Hibernia-based
Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association. She said that nationally there have been
more than 350 deaths of young people from this and other forms of heart disease since 2000. HCM which is attributed to an
inherited abnormally-mutated gene caused the large majority of these deaths.

Many of the youngsters deaths took place in school environments, she said.
Regardless of brand she urged the board to buy the equipment and even provided the
board with a list of organizations that provide grant funds for their purchase.

Another resident, Joe Smolinski, said he’s a member of two first aid squads,
including one locally and he says the average ambulance response time on a call in
West Milford is 15 minutes due to the large size of the town, more than 80 square
miles. "Every minute that a person in need is deprived of defibrillation, they’re
chances of survival are reduced 10 percent." He urged the board to do the math, and
also called for the town to mandate a defibrillator in every police car.

"Prices are going down (on defibrillators) but we just can’t wait any longer,"
Smolinski said.

"Be assured, you don’t have to convince anyone here," Gilmartin replied.

Board member Christopher Rahey urged that fellow member Grey Bailey’s finance
committee explore ways to "find $15,000 to do this."

Bailey replied that he’d like to see a motion at the next meeting, Dec. 16, to fund
the equipment, but was told by Cea that he wants to review finances between
Tuesday’s meeting and the next.

"Are you telling me this community can’t find $15,000 in a month," Bailey asked.

While in preliminary budget discussions earlier in the meeting, Cea had told the
board the district had $1.7 million, or 3.3 percent of its budget, that it
maintained as a surplus against unexpected expenses.

Yet, the afternoon following the board meeting, Gentile told The West Milford
Messenger that "Greg Bailey called me today and said the board was still not willing
to part with any money. That was in a private session, after the public meeting."

At some point the board’s got to step up to the plate and do the right thing. They
never seem to want to," Gentile said.