AEDs could be required in all Georgia schools thanks to new bill
Georgia is among the 20 states which require AEDs in schools. But the state requirement only extends to high schools.
Georgia lawmakers are set to review a new bill that would require all public schools in Georgia to have an automated external defibrillator, or AED, on-site for emergencies.
Awareness around AEDs and quick response to cardiac events gained new attention following NFL safety Damar Hamlin's on-field collapse in January 2023. Now, advocates tell 11Alive they hope that will lead to improved access to AEDs in schools across the country.
Bethany Norris' family is among those who know the difference AED access can make. When Norris' daughter Audrey collapsed during a middle school field day in 2021, it was the quick action of school staff and close access to an AED that doctors say saved Audrey's life.
"Within like seconds, she had people that were on her that were checking her vitals, somebody started doing CPR," Norris said. "Somebody else ran immediately to get the AED that was in the field house."
Audrey had collapsed mid-run on the high school field, Norris learned. Despite screenings, the family had no indication she had an underlying heart condition.
"She has a condition called CPVT," Norris said, "and what it does is when she gets into exercise or stress, the adrenaline that goes into her heart, it causes her to have a cardiac event."
"She takes medicine now to control that, but before we knew she had it, she obviously was not on that medication, and she had been running cross-country. She had been doing athletics," Norris added. "For her heart condition, that's very common for kids to have no issues until all of a sudden it triggers."
Dr. Jonathan Kim, a cardiologist and Associate Professor of Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, explained that even with screenings, there will still be cases like Audrey's that go under the radar.
"Somewhere between seven and 20,000 children per year will have a cardiac event," Dr. Kim said. "This includes teen athletes but also children."
When cardiac emergencies happen, time is precious, underscoring the need for CPR training and quick access to AEDs.
During a sudden cardiac arrest, every minute without CPR, the chance of survival drops by 10%, according to the American Heart Association. Prompt CPR and AED use, however, can double or even triple the chance of survival.
Yet, according to the AHA, only 20 states require AEDs in schools. While Georgia is among those states, current law only requires the devices in public high schools with athletic programs. HB 874, sponsored by state Representative Lee Hawkins, aims to change that by requiring all 2,288 K-12 public schools in Georgia to have at least one AED on site and be easily accessible during school hours and school functions.
The legislation also proposes AED funding (which can cost between $1,500 to $5,000 each), new requirements around emergency action plans and routine AED drills.
"Right now, a lot of schools already have this," Rep. Hawkins told 11Alive. "But not all do. It sets up a team of teachers or administrators that would be like a 'strike team.' They are trained with the AEDs, and they practice two sessions a year. It's really to standardize the training and ensure the schools have this in place."
The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association are among the groups supporting such bills. State auditors estimate it could cost Georgia more than $6.8 million to supply AEDs for all public schools. Auditors did note the costs could be much lower, given some schools, including more than 400 high schools, may already have functioning AEDs.
Norris hopes Audrey's story is a reminder that when it comes to a child's life, no expense compares.
"Children are priceless. and if it does cost some money to get these devices, to save your students, to have that peace of mind as a parent, it is so essential," she said.
The state House Health Committee will convene at 2 p.m. today to review the bill.
11Alive reaches out to eight metro Atlanta school districts about AED access. Bartow, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, Griffin-Spaulding, Gwinnett, and Marietta City Schools all responded and confirmed AEDs are present in all of the district's schools.