UW News

July 22, 2010

UW Medicine backs effort to save lives in schools

Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering

“It’s a simple message: AEDs save lives,” said Dr. Jon Drezner, speaking before a small crowd at a July 11 Sounders FC match in Seattle. AED stands for automatic external defibrillator, and Drezner, UW associate professor in family medicine, is one of the nation’s leading researchers in sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes.

At the Sounders match, Drezner was speaking as a physician and chairman of the board of the Heart of Seattle Schools Project, a group with a goal to make Seattle public schools and the community safer from sudden cardiac arrest. Though it may surprise you, sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and the leading cause of death in youth sports.

Washington State University and former UW women’s basketball coach June Daugherty also spoke that night to help raise awareness and funds to pay for more than 200 AEDs in 93 schools and outside fields in Seattle.

Daugherty told the harrowing tale of her experience with sudden cardiac arrest in 2007. Her heart stopped while driving with her daughter to a medical clinic in Everett. “I came back on the seventh shock,” she said. Drezner and others in the crowd winced as she shared that detail. “Our kids are safer in malls, airports and casinos than in schools,” she said, referring to some of the common places you might find an AED.

Darla Varrenti doesn’t need to see statistics to know that sudden cardiac arrest is a serious threat for young people. She lost athlete son Nick in September 2004 when he was only 16 years old. His photo is featured in a Heart of Seattle Schools video and on the web site. When it hit the big screen at Qwest Field, she could not hold back the tears.

Varrenti and family members are among the leaders of the Heart of Seattle Schools and also the Nick of Time Foundation, a Mill Creek, Wash.-based nonprofit aimed at fostering awareness about sudden cardiac arrest through education, legislation and cardiac screenings.

Drezner said that based on his research, having an AED on-site and available to treat sudden cardiac arrest in schools increases the chance of survival to more than 60 percent, or more than 10 times the chance of surviving cardiac arrest when an AED is not close at hand. “I believe strongly that all schools should have access to AEDs as well as personnel trained to use them,” he said. The Heart of Seattle Schools project will support training, with help from the Seattle Fire Department and Medic One.

Sounders FC/Seattle Seahawks CEO Todd Leiweke has become an ardent supporter, thanks to Drezner, who also serves as a team physician for the Seahawks. Drezner lobbied the executive to learn more about the project and throw his support behind the effort, which he’s done in a major way—offering up his box at Sounders FC games for fundraising events and providing sideline chats, too. Drezner said Leiweke’s support has helped the group’s mission become a reality.

Drezner smiled as he described an additional supporter: his 9-year-old daughter, Sophia. When he gave a talk in the Seahawks locker room as part of a Heart event, he had barely started his call to action when Sophia raised her hand. He was speaking in front of 70 people, and, he recalled, he wasn’t sure what to do. He subtly shook his head, “no,” but she continued to wave her hand in the air.

Not sure about the outcome, he called on her. She asked if she could donate her piggy bank to the cause. The room went silent. “It was a touching, proud moment for me as her father, and amazing that our message about AEDs and saving lives is so simple it can move my 9-year-old to donate her piggy bank,” said Drezner. “She is a bright, kind soul, and the moment touched all of us.”

CEO Leiweke was inspired on the spot to match the donation ($83.18); it’s also an option for giving on the Heart of Seattle Schools site.

Save the date! The Heart of Seattle Schools will hold a gala dinner and auction Saturday, October 23, from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Don James Center, Husky Stadium. For information about attending, donating an auction item or other sponsorship opportunities, contact Darla Varrenti at (425) 891-0578 or email her: darla@nickoftimefoundation.org

You can also make an online donation to Heart of Seattle Schools.