WASHINGTON — Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. is hoping a nudge from Congress will help put lifesaving defibrillators in every school in the country.
The Knoxville Republican filed legislation Tuesday urging states to require that schools install Automated External Defibrillators, or AEDs, to help students who may suffer cardiac arrest.
The legislation wouldn’t force states to act. It merely encourages state legislatures to mandate defibrillators in schools.
“I hope it gets school systems to start at least thinking about having these defibrillators on campus and having at least one or two staff members trained to use the devices,” Duncan said.
Tennessee and 16 other states already have enacted laws that require defibrillators in schools.
Tennessee’s law requires all schools in the state to have defibrillators in their gym. The law was passed in 2010 and named after Tanner Jameson, a 13-year-old from Maryville who died after suffering cardiac arrest while playing basketball at Eagleton Middle School. At the time, the school had one defibrillator in the main office.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed a state law requiring schools to train staff and students on how to use the defibrillators. Jameson’s mother, Rhonda Harrill, lobbied for the new law.
Duncan said his federal legislation was inspired by another medical emergency that happened last week at Holston Middle School in Knoxville.
In that incident, a student suffered cardiac arrest and collapsed while jogging during gym class. Teachers Daniel Thompson and Travis Tipton and Assistant Principal Jim Wolfenbarger administered CPR and used a defibrillator to restart the student’s heart until an ambulance arrived.
The school staff had recently completed training on how to use the lifesaving device.
“It is my hope that we can start hearing more stories about lives that are saved by access to AEDs instead of hearing ones about lives lost due to lack of access,” said Duncan, who attended Holston Middle School decades ago and jogged on the same track.
If his legislation gets traction in Congress, Duncan said, he may file another bill next year to offer grants and other incentives to encourage schools to have defibrillators on campus.
In 1998, Duncan sponsored a law requiring all passenger airplanes to have defibrillators in their medical kits. The law also included a requirement that flight crews receive training on how to use the devices.
“If Congress can agree that travelers in the air should be protected, I hope my colleagues can agree that students at schools in our communities should be as well, through access to AEDs,” Duncan said.