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The device that may have saved Damar Hamlin not always available for student athletes

CINCINNATI (WKRC) – When Damar Hamlin collapsed, an automated external defibrillator, or AED, was on hand to restart his heart. Unfortunately, not all local schools are equipped to provide that same safety protocol.

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The device that may have saved Damar Hamlin not always available for student athletes (WKRC/Project ADAM/Julie West/AP/Emilee Chinn)

The American College of Cardiology reports that 100 to 150 sudden cardiac deaths among student athletes occur annually during competitive sports. But Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana still do not require AEDs at practices and competitive events. Interestingly, what just happened to Damar Hamlin might change that.

“September 25, 2013, my son was on a football practice field,” Julie West said. “He just got done running a play and he collapsed and went into sudden cardiac arrest. And I lost my son that day.”

Julie West had no idea her son had a heart condition that, coupled with the exertion of football, would take her son’s life. And nine years later, when Damar Hamlin collapsed this past Monday night, her phone started ringing and the emotions all rushed back.

“What was going through your mind when you started getting these phone calls?” Local 12 asked Julie, who now runs the Play for Jake Foundation.

“The first thing was [Damar’s] mom,” she replied. “That was my first thought, and then I prayed that he would be okay, and then I was so grateful there was an AED and there was personnel on the field knowing what to do.”

Jake and hundreds of other student athletes were not so lucky. Local 12 spoke with Julian Tackett, Commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.

“Why not have every coach have an AED?” Local 12 asked.

“They should have an AED available right there, all the time,” replied Tackett. “We shouldn’t have to wait even three minutes. Because every 30 seconds counts.”

Tackett says there should be a law that requires schools to have AEDs at all practices and games.

“So commissioner, how do we make that happen?” Local 12 asked.

“If people decide it’s a priority, then they’re find a way to fund it,” said Tackett. “That’s the bottom line. They’ve got to make it a priority.”

The assistant commissioner of the Indiana High School Athletic Association says AEDs are expensive, but he thinks public and private money will kick in if the legislature mandates it.

“I would wholeheartedly support that requirement,” said Robert Faulkens. “Where there’s a need, people step in and help those schools out that are in need to provide for the health and safety of our student athletes.”

A representative with the Ohio High School Athletic Association sent a statement saying, “We can’t require AEDs to be placed in all athletic facilities, but we strongly encourage that to happen.”

Julie West thinks what happened on Monday night, on such a big stage, could help convince legislators to act.

“As hard as this is to say, but for everyone to see what happened on that field that day, is going to bring so much awareness to the importance of having AEDs available,” she said. “It breaks my heart, but it happened, and now we have to do something about it.”

An Indiana legislator is about to introduce a bill requiring high school venues to have AEDs at practices and games. Local 12 reached out to members of the Ohio legislature who sit on the Primary and Secondary Education Committees, to see why they have not done the same, but no one would comment.

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