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UH, Browns launch effort to prevent youth sport cardiac arrest deaths

This Lifepak CR2 defibrillator is mounted on a wall between a skatepark and a baseball diamond at Lakewood Park in Lakewood, Ohio.
Stephanie Czekalinski
MetroHealth System
The MTKYN Foundation, founded by Cleveland Brown's cornerback Denzel Ward, is donating money for the purchase of AEDs, according to UH. Ward lost his father to sudden cardiac arrest in 2016, after he collapsed at a spin class. There was an unused AED just a few feet away.

On Friday, University Hospitals is launching a partnership with the Cleveland Browns and Browns' cornerback Denzel Ward to help prevent cardiac arrest deaths in high school athletes.

Cardiac arrest, the sudden loss of all heart function due to an irregular heart rhythm, is often lethal without immediate treatment through CPR and a controlled electric shock issued through an Automated External Defibrillator or AED, UH said in a news release. Nearly 90% of the 350,000 people who experience cardiac arrest die each year because of lack of access to an AED.

The new AEDin3 initiative has two goals, providing AEDs where needed, and determining whether existing AEDs work and can be used within three minutes of cardiac arrest, said UH’s Dr. Robert Flannery.

“It's great to be able to give away AEDs, but the AEDin3 challenge also stress tests the emergency action plan for that venue,” said Flannery, the UH Drusinsky Sports Medicine physician and the assistant physician to the Cleveland Browns.

Testing these plans is important because time is such a factor when responding to cardiac arrest, he said. The AEDin3 initiative includes encouraging Northeast Ohio high schools to test whether their AED is no more than three minutes from anywhere on their campus where athletic competition takes place. Participant schools are asked to submit videos of students and staff racing from where their AEDs are located to various fields on campus with a timer to see if they can make it there in three minutes or less.

This not only helps determine if the school needs additional AEDs, but hopefully brings attention to this issue, Flannery said.

"We want as many people engaged as possible," he said. "We hope that'll go viral. We did take some inspiration from the Ice Bucket challenge a couple of years ago. You know, ALS is a devastating disease also. But they had some fun and raised a lot of awareness for the disease. That's what we're trying to do here... raise awareness for the community."

Flannery said he expected the AEDin3 program will likely distribute around 120 AEDs to the approximately 60 to 70 high schools located within the eight counties UH serves. He estimates that number of AEDs will be necessary to fill in any gaps at schools where it takes longer than three minutes to get from the field to the AED, he said. Ward will provide the funding for the AEDs through his Make Them Know Your Name Foundation in honor of his father who died of sudden cardiac arrest in 2018.

The risk of cardiac arrest came to national attention in 2022 when Buffalo Bills football player Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The quick action of medical personnel, including the use of an AED, is credited with saving his life. The NFL then started the Smart Heart Sports coalition to advocate for each state to adopt policies to prevent fatalities from sudden cardiac arrest among high school athletes.

The Cleveland Clinic also provides training and support to prevent sudden cardiac arrest deaths among student-athletes, having done so since 2019 as part of Project Adam, a national program offering free training for faculty and staff at schools, drills and defibrillator placement assessment. The Clinic currently provides support to four schools in Medina and Stark counties. Project Adam is named for a teenage athlete in Wisconsin who died on a basketball court, and it advocates for defibrillator and CPR training at schools across the country. Other Project Adam Ohio locations are Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Meanwhile, the Ohio legislature is considering legislation mandating an athletic emergency plan for every high school and venue, AEDs on-site and within three minutes from a sports venue and training in CPR and AED use for every coach in every sport. The legislation, House Bill 47 passed the House and is currently being considered in several state Senate committees.

Stephen Langel is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media's engaged journalism team.