‘Two years ago, I died’: Teen celebrates new AED school law

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Since August 1, Rhode Island law has required automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to be on the grounds at all times at public and private schools.

Owen West, 16, told a gathering at his father’s law firm Monday, which included Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, that an AED was the chief reason he is still alive today.

“This is sometimes a little bit tough to say, but a little over two years ago, I died,” West said.

That day was September 27, 2014. West went into cardiac arrest at his high school, and he said he only survived because an AED was nearby — and someone gave him CPR.

“AEDs are what actually save you, but the CPR is what keeps you alive until the AED gets there,” he said.

West’s father, Teno A. West, is a principal in Pannone, Lopes, Devereaux and West LLC, and took part in hosting Monday’s event to raise awareness of the AED law. “I never want another parent to experience what our family went through,” he said.

“Not every state has taken this step,” to require AEDs in all schools, Gov. Raimondo told the group. “I’m very proud to be in a state that values the lives of our young people — and the safety of our schoolchildren enough — to be able to make what is really a modest investment, maybe $800 to $1000, for these kids. It saves lives.”

Last year, researchers at the Institute of Medicine, now known as the National Academy of Medicine, said in a report that cardiac arrest — sometimes referred to as “sudden cardiac arrest” (SCA) — strikes almost 600,000 people each year and kills the vast majority of them. The researchers estimated that cardiac arrest is the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind cancer and heart disease.

The American Heart Association and others draw a distinction between cardiac arrest and heart attack: cardiac arrest is when the heart malfunctions and stops beating unexpectedly (an “electrical” problem), whereas a heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart is blocked (a “circulation” problem).

Parent Heart Watch, one of several organizations raising awareness of SCA in youth, says it’s the number one killer of student athletes and the number two medical cause of death among youth under 25. The organization says the first symptom of SCA is often death — either because the warning signs of an underlying heart condition were not recognized or help was not administered within minutes of the event.”

“We all know these stories. You’re not going to make it if you have to wait to get to the hospital. That’s why this is so important,” said Raimondo.