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families that lost loved ones to cardiac arrest celebrate passing of aed bill.

From left, the Thidodeaus, Cannings, Barri and Stephen Godbout, Allyson Perron of the American Heart Association and John and LuAnn Ellsesser. The families were part of a coalition of people who advocated for the mandated placement of AEDs in all schools across the state. Courtesy photo

Local families celebrate passage of AED bill

Local families are celebrating a new state law that will require automatic external defibrillators in every public school in the Commonwealth.

The Thibodeaus, from Holden, and the Godbouts, from Sterling, worked as tireless advocates for the bill, which lawmakers passed earlier this month, and Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law on Jan. 13.

“We’re thrilled,” said Deb Thibodeau. “This has been in the works for over a decade – different people sponsoring this bill and trying to get it passed.”

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito introduced the legislation over 10 years ago as a Representative in the State Legislature. It has been introduced and reintroduced in each legislative session since, each time gaining steam due to the efforts of groups like the American Heart Association, and families like the Thibodeaus and Godbouts.

For the local families, the push has been personal.

In 2011, Thibodeau’s 12-year-old son, Josh, collapsed on a school athletic field during a summer soccer camp in Holden. Though his coaches quickly called 911 and summoned emergency help from across the street, he was unable to be revived. An automated external defibrillator (AED) was locked up in a nearby snack shack. He lived with an undiagnosed heart condition, and died from sudden cardiac arrest.

Later, his younger brother, Adam, was found to have a completely different, potentially fatal heart condition called Long QT Syndrome.

Barri Lynn and Stephen Godbout’s son, Ben, a freshman at WRHS, was also born with a congenital heart defect.

The families, along with a coalition of others including the Ellsessars, from Sutton, who lost two sons, Michael and Tim, to sudden cardiac arrest, and Sue Canning, from Westfield, who lost her son Kevin, banded together to push for what they called “common sense” legslation on access to AEDs, portable devices that deliver an electric shock through the chest to the heart, restoring a normal rhythm following sudden cardiac arrest.

Thibodeau, who runs the Josh Thibodeau Helping Hearts Foundation, had been following an AED bill introduced by Sen. Mark Montigny from a distance until last July, when she learned it was in the Ways and Means Committee, where a friend told her “bills go to die.”

“From that point I got a little bit obsessed. I started sending email after email, making phone call after phone call,” she said. “Around here, in Worcester and a lot of the suburbs, a lot of the schools already have AEDs but we knew there were 200-300 in the state that didn’t. That’s the problem — what if you’re sending your child off to a school where there isn’t one?”

The families who formed the “heart coalition” kept in close contact as the bill made its way through the legislative process. They exchanged updates in group texts, told their stories to local and national media outlets, and made trips to Boston to lobby legislators at the State House.

The bill was enacted in the eleventh hour – on the last day of the legislative season on Jan. 3, with only a few hours left on the clock.

“If it did not get enacted on Jan. 3, we would have had to begin again. This would have meant it would not become law until 2020,” said Stephen Godbout.

The local families credit State Rep. Kim Ferguson (R-Holden) as being instrumental in getting the legislation through.

“I absolutely believed in this bill and wanted it passed – I wasn’t willing to wait for another session to start over again,” said Ferguson. “There was no reason to wait. This bill can save lives. It makes sense.”

Every year, more than 300,000 Americans experience an out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest. Of those, approximately 90 percent do not survive. Automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, greatly enhance survival rates and are simple enough to allow non-medical personnel to operate. These devices guide the user through visual and audible prompts.

The new legislation will require AEDs on school campuses and at least one staff member certified in the proper use of the device.

Under the bill, an AED and trained personnel must also be readily available at any school-sponsored athletic event. Personnel that use an AED to rescue a victim will be protected from legal liability under the new measure. In addition, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education alongside the Department of Public Health will work with local schools to help identify funding and strategies to acquire needed devices in hardship situations.

“Sudden cardiac arrest is the number one killer of student athletes in the United States. This law will save the lives of students who have diagnosed cardiac conditions and ones who are unaware they may have cardiac conditions,” said Godbout. “Further, there are countless adults who pass through the schools each and every day – faculty, staff, parents, grandparents, coaches, referees, etc. Schools are community centers. Having AEDs in each and every school in our Commonwealth is a long overdue layer of protection that will undoubtedly save lives – forever.”

Story Credit: http://www.thelandmark.com/news/2017-01-19/Front_Page/Happy_Hearts.html