Cardiac arrest save of Ga. student leads to CPR training, more AEDs in school
By Mark RiceColumbus Ledger-Enquirer
COLUMBUS, Ga. — Collin Etheridge ran up two flights of stairs to open a locked gym door for fellow students at Brookstone School trying to get inside.
When the seemingly healthy 13-year-old reached the top of the stairs, he collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest. A series of heroic acts by Brookstone staff saved his life.
That was April 20, 2022. Since then, this Columbus private school has taken steps to potentially save more lives.
Brookstone staff members used CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and an AED (automated external defibrillator) to help revive Collin. Now, the Etheridge family and Brookstone are using this incident to spread awareness and action for more CPR training and more AEDs available in Georgia schools.
Collin's mother, Meghann Etheridge, told the Ledger-Enquirer they are trying to "make something positive happen after something so horrible."
Brookstone already has. During this past year, the school ensured all of its approximately 180 staff members are trained and certified in CPR and how to use an AED.
"We take that priority," Brookstone nurse Linda Sheffield told the L-E, "especially after watching that with Collin."
Since 2008, Georgia law has required all public high schools with an interscholastic athletics program to have a functional AED on site.
Since the 2013-14 school year, a Georgia law enacted in 2012 has mandated public high schools to provide CPR and AED training for students as a requirement for graduation.
Since 2019, the Georgia High School Association has required all coaches to go through CPR and AED training.
Now, some state legislators are trying to pass a bill to expand the law mandating an AED at all public high schools with an interscholastic athletics program to any public school with such a program, essentially including middle and junior high schools.
That legislation, Georgia Senate Bill 150, was introduced during the 2023 General Assembly session but hasn't received a vote.
CPR is an emergency lifesaving procedure performed when the heart stops beating. The American Heart Association recommends two versions of CPR, depending on the circumstances: chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth breathing.
An AED is a medical device that can analyze the heart's rhythm and deliver an electrical shock (defibrillation) to help the heart return to an effective rhythm. It should be stored in its cabinet, mounted to a wall 48 inches above the floor in an unobstructed area so anyone can access it, according to AED.com.
AEDs look like a large First Aid kit and range in weight from 2-7 pounds. They store the patient's vital signs throughout the time it's being used. Such information was downloaded and printed before Collin was taken by ambulance from Brookstone to a hospital, so the medical personnel treating him could better understand his condition.
"It helped them see what happened with his heart and why it happened," Sheffield said.
An average of nearly 383,000 out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrests occur annually, according to the American Heart Association. Effective CPR immediately provided after sudden cardiac arrest can double or triple a victim's chance of survival, the AHA says, but only 32% of such victims receive CPR from a bystander, and the survival rate for people who suffer sudden cardiac arrest when they aren't in a hospital is less than 8%.
Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who was revived on the field by medical personnel using an AED and CPR on him after suffering sudden cardiac arrest during an NFL game in January, spoke in March at the U.S. Capitol to advocate for the Access to AEDs Act, which calls for schools to receive grants to implement AED and CPR programs.
Hamlin cited the following statistics to describe the problem: An average of more than 7,000 children younger than 18 suffer sudden cardiac arrest per year, and one out of every 300 youths has an undetected heart condition that puts them at risk.
Students who attend a school with an AED are seven times likely to survive sudden cardiac arrest than schools that don't have an AED.
Also in March, the NFL announced the Smart Heart Sports Coalition partnership with other organizations to encourage all 50 states to adopt legislation that would require high schools to have:
— Emergency action plans for each athletics venue.
— Clearly marked AED at or within 3 minutes of each athletics venue.
— CPR and AED education for coaches.
Collin, now 14, was a "perfectly normal kid" who had no health issues at annual medical checkups, Etheridge said, but then "the worst thing you can possibly imagine happening to your child" actually did happen."
On April 20, 2022, Etheridge got a phone call from the school, informing her that Collin had fainted. Dizziness was one of the side effects of the medication (gabapentin) that Collins had been taking for nerve pain in his knee, so Etheridge figured that was the reason.
A few minutes later, the circumstances were .much more dire. In another call from the school, Etheridge heard Collin didn't have a pulse and an ambulance was taking him to Piedmont Columbus Regional's emergency room.
Collin was in cardiac arrest.
"We are so thankful for the school," Etheridge said. "There are four individuals that saved his life. ... I know without those four he would not be sitting here today, and so we are so thankful for that. ... They are definitely heroes."
They twice used the AED on Collin and performed CPR during the 10-15 minutes it took for the ambulance to arrive.
Making the situation worse for Etheridge is that she wasn't allowed to see Collin when she arrived at the hospital because the medical personnel were trying to stabilize him.
"That was really difficult not knowing whether he was going to make it through or not," she said.
Collin was taken by helicopter to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston Hospital.
"The medevac team said that he was the sickest child they'd every flown," Etheridge said.
Collin was put on ECMO, the highest level of life support, for several days to help his heart heal.
"In the hospital, it was very touch and go," Etheridge said.
Specialists diagnosed Collin with a heart arrhythmia disorder called CPVT, a rare disorder that affects approximately one in 10,000 people. He had surgery to remove a nerve that ran toward his heart,
Collin spent nine days in a hospital, including four days unconscious, but he returned to school two days after being released.
"He's doing fantastic," Etheridge said. "He is in honors courses this year. So it's not only a miracle that he survived, but cognitively, we are fully intact."
Collin must take medication daily, and golf is the only sport he is allowed to play, per doctors' orders, because CPVT can trigger cardiac arrest through strenuous activity or an adrenaline rush.
"They've told us there will always be about a 5% chance that he could go into cardiac arrest" if his heart rate goes too high, Etheridge said.
When they realized Collin would fully recover, his family started to wonder what they could do to help increase the chances of others surviving cardiac arrest at a school.
"If we can just get people to understand how important it is and really take the initiative to get CPR certified, I mean, you have no idea when this is going to happen," Etheridge said.
The cost of an AED typically ranges from $1,200-$3,000.
"That's just a very small investment to make to be able to save someone's life," Etheridge said. "... Probably as a society, we only see this as elderly people who's going to need this, but here's a prime example."
The family is doing that by advocating for more CPR training and more availability of AEDs. They contacted Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and the American Heart Association to learn how they could help.
Project SAVE through Children's Healthcare of Atlanta donated dummies to Brookstone to certify the school nurse to train the rest of the staff in CPR and AED, as well as every employee subsequently hired.
Project SAVE provides schools with a free consultation on prevention of sudden cardiac death, how to train staff and students for CPR and AED, and implement an emergency action plan.
In Georgia, all high school students must be trained in CPR to graduate. So the Etheridge family would like to see that requirement for private high school students as well.
"I just want someone else's life to be able to be saved," Collin said.
Sheffield has been a nurse for eight years. She worked in The Medical Center's ICU unit before joining the Brookstone staff two years ago. She estimated she's been involved in reviving someone in cardiac arrest more than 50 times. But this was the first time for her outside a hospital setting.
"I've been involved in a lot of codes," she said. "This situation's different. In a hospital setting, when you have someone code, you have a button to push, you have medical staff the run to help, you have medication, you have anesthesia."
But this time, Sheffield was the only healthcare professional on the scene before the ambulance arrived.
"It was traumatic," she said.
Brookstone already had an action plan in place, so all staff involved knew what to do during such an emergency, Sheffield said.
Two staff members notified Sheffield around the same time immediately after Collin collapsed.
It took Sheffield about two minutes to run from the clinic to the Illges Gym. When she arrived, a staff member already was administering CPR, and Kris Maguire, head of the middle school, already had called 911 and was opening the AED.
"So that was crucial," Sheffield said.
Sheffield, PE teachers Nate McConnell and Lucy Pound and Muscogee County sheriff's deputy Jonnie Ellerbee, who was on campus, rotated performing CPR on Collin.
An AED has been in each of Brookstone's buildings since 2013.
"Because we had that AED and we had the staff members at the time that we had trained, we were able to give Collin the care he needed," Sheffield said. "... We were at the right place at the right time. We had the right equipment. We had the the right staff. And, honestly, I just think the Good Lord was with us. ... Collin is a miracle. I mean, he truly is a miracle."
Since the cardiac arrest, Brookstone's leadership decided to practice its medical emergency plan with drills instead of only tabletop exercises.
"We knew what our responsibilities were and where we were going, but we didn't drill it like a fire drill or a tornado drill," Brookstone School Learning Center director and assistant head of school Bonnie Smith told the L-E.
Before the incident, coaches and physical education teachers at Brookstone were trained in CPR, but only an estimated 20% of all the school's staff had such certification.
"That was kind of the industry standard," Smith said. "... This incident made us want us to be prepared no matter who might encounter an incident."
Brookstone is proud of its professional development culture, Smith said, with a staff continuously seeking more to learn on behalf of the students. But this emergency hammered home that point.
"It scared us," Smith said. "It was a big day around here. There was a lot of reflection. We were grateful for the way it happened and the people who were in place, but we also don't want to take for granted that the right people will be there as quickly as they could every time."
The training at school benefits the community beyond the campus, Sheffield said.
"They can take that home too and not just here at work, but they can also take it outside and into their homes as well because we all know it can happen anywhere," she said.
Collin and his mother joined a contingent from Brookstone to advocate at the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta for more CPR training and more access to AEDs at schools.
"I don't feel like, as a society, we're prepared for the most part to handle these situations," she said.
Collin has asked the Brookstone administration to train all its 800-plus students in CPR, in addition to the students who already are certified through working in the school's summer camps and extended day program.
"We're in the process of talking about that and thinking that through," Smith said. "There are a lot of complex components to that when you're talking about students. So we're getting some really good advice and some data on what age are you emotionally mature enough, physically able to handle something like that."
Regardless, Sheffield is impressed with the Etheridge family's commitment to using their crisis to help others.
"Just the way they've handled this overall," she said, "is admirable."
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