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KCH puts Lexington schools to the test for Project ADAM Heart Safe designation

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 22, 2023) On his way to class, an unsuspecting student at Tates Creek High School stumbles onto a shocking scene. In an empty hallway, a figure lies motionless on the floor. The student quickly knocks on the door of the nearest classroom and informs the teacher there’s an unresponsive person who needs help.

What happens next is a flurry of activity — thoroughly planned, well-rehearsed and carefully executed. The teacher makes a call to the front office, who in turn makes an announcement over the schoolwide intercom. Within seconds, more teachers and staff appear at the scene. Emergency services are called while CPR is administered to the figure on the floor, followed by shocks from an automated external defibrillator (AED).

Three minutes after that first knock on the classroom door, it’s all over. Chest compressions cease. The AED is packed away. School staff return to their classrooms and offices, having completed the cardiac emergency response drill set by providers from Kentucky Children’s Hospital. The "unresponsive person” on the floor was a CPR manikin; as the Tates Creek staff tended to the “emergency,” KCH staff monitored their response time and actions. After the score is tallied, with points for expediency and adherence to outlined criteria, there’s a round of applause. Tates Creek High School is the first school in Central Kentucky to be certified as a Project ADAM Heart Safe School by KCH.

“The response by the Tates Creek was fantastic,” said Shaun Mohan, M.D., electrophysiologist at Kentucky Children’s Hospital. “They were more prepared than we anticipated. They have walkie-talkies, a communication plan and connections with local emergency services. They thought ahead and knew exactly what they needed. The staff deserves a lot of credit for the work they put in.”

“I think we did well; I always think we could do better,” said Justin Cheatham, principal of the Academy of Business, Entrepreneurship & Education at Tates Creek. “We got it under three minutes. I'd like to see it under two minutes. When we're talking about the health and wellness of our young people or any stakeholders that are in the building, I want to get them the treatment that they need as fast as possible. So we did well today. We got CPR there quickly. We got the AED there quickly. I think we should continue to practice and do more drills to get medical treatment to anyone who needs it as fast as possible.”

There are eight AEDs inside Tates Creek High School, provided by Fayette County Public Schools, as well as two more outside the building and one carried by the school’s athletic trainer. The school is also home to the Academy of Medical & Emergency Services, a program for high school students interested in pursuing a career in health care or emergency management. By virtue of having the program, TCHS has a higher-than-average number of CPR trained staff on site.

Kentucky Children’s Hospital is an affiliate of Project ADAM (Automated Defibrillators in Adam’s Memory), a program of Children’s Wisconsin and the Herma Heart Institute. Project ADAM saves lives by empowering schools and communities to implement a comprehensive plan to prevent sudden cardiac death. The program is named in memory of Adam Lemel, a 17-year-old boy from Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, who collapsed and died while playing basketball at school.

Schools that work with Project ADAM on a plan earn a Heart Safe School designation, which indicates to the public that school staff are trained and prepared to respond to a cardiac emergency. The designation includes placement of AEDs within a school building, implementation of a cardiac emergency response plan, AED drills and education of school staff on the warning signs and prevention of sudden cardiac death. AEDs are safe and easy to use, making it possible for nonmedical personnel to provide rapid defibrillation for victims of all ages.

“It’s not enough to just have AEDs onsite,” Mohan said. “For a school to be considered for the Heart Safe designation, they need a certain percentage of their staff CPR certified. They need to know where the AEDs are located, how to maintain them so that they are charged and functional. Who is responsible for bringing the devices to games and on field trips? Having a cardiac preparedness plan and conducting regular drills is no different than a fire drill.”

According to the American Heart Association, every year there are 326,200 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests. Of those, only about 10.6% survive. On any given day, approximately 20% of a community is in its schools, including students, teachers, staff and family members. Recently, several cases of young, otherwise healthy athletes suffering sudden cardiac arrest have garnered national media attention, further highlighting the need for a focused effort on cardiac arrest preparedness in schools. A focused effort on cardiac arrest preparedness in schools is critical to protecting our children and others in the community.

“I think one of the reasons you saw the staff respond the way they do is that here at Tates Creek, is because we put our kids first,” said Cheatham. “I'm so proud. I'm thankful that we're the first to be designated by KCH, but I hope we're not the last. We're talking about the health and wellness of students, teachers and parents. We want to be prepared and I hope that other schools follow suit.”

Mohan and his team are currently working with most of Lexington’s high schools, but their goal is to make every elementary, middle and high school in Kentucky heart safe.

“This is going to be a very large endeavor,” said Mohan. “It’s not going to happen in a year. We have a great heart program, but there’s a lot of state to cover.”

A collaboration between Kentucky Children’s Hospital and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center brings together the expertise of Kentucky’s top hospital and the country’s best children’s hospital to create one of the top pediatric heart programs in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report.

a group of educators from Tates Creek high school hold a banner recognizing their heart safe school status
Tates Creek High School was the first school to be designated a Heart Safe School by KCH. Hilary Brown | UK Photo.

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