Fundraiser seeks to have AED machines in all London high schools by fall 2017

The push to install AED devices in schools and public spaces came following the death of 15-year-old Andrew Stoddart of Thamesford. . Tim Boyle / Getty Images

A local non-profit group has launched an ambitious fundraising campaign with the aim of having all London secondary schools equipped with automated external defibrillator (AED) machines by the end of the year.

The campaign, launched publicly earlier this week by Dad Club London, a registered non-profit comprised of more than 3,000 local fathers, is looking to raise $24,500 from the community to get AEDs installed in the schools by the fall.

As of Friday morning, just days after the campaign was announced, around $7,000 had already been donated by the public, said Jeremy McCall, the group’s president.

“I think just because, as parents, we have a natural instinct to protect our children,” McCall said. “A lot of people just weren’t aware that these essential life-saving devices were not already in place, and so once the need was identified, it just made perfect sense to get behind it.”

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According to McCall, Dad Club London has been raising money for local causes for more than four years. One of the group’s members, Jake Skinner, is also a trustee with the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB). McCall said Skinner approached the group about the idea.

“He actually came to us because of everything that had been happening with regards to the needs for AEDs in all schools and the huge costs associated with it,” McCall said. “So he came to us and basically challenged us ‘hey do you think you can help?’ And so we stepped up to the table and we said ‘absolutely.'”

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Although the life-saving machines are becoming more and more commonplace in public spaces across the city, they remain noticeably absent at London public schools. Only three of the city’s 12 TVDSB secondary schools — Laurier, Clarke Road, and Banting — have an AED machine. Of all 27 TVDSB secondary schools, only nine are equipped. All but one London District Catholic School Board (LDCSB) secondary school has an AED machine.

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Few AED machines are also installed in the TVDSB’s 130 elementary schools. Only seven, or about five per cent, have a machine.

All TVDSB schools are expected to have the machines installed within three to five years at a rate of about 40 per year. The total cost of the devices, nearly $300,000, is being covered through outside fundraising, like the campaign being organized by Dad Club London. The school board will be responsible for machine maintenance and training and is providing administrative support to those organizing fundraisers.

McCall said with the high cost of the machines, it made perfect sense for Dad Club London to come in and provide a new revenue stream. “As we all know, with budgets, when you need new money for something, that oftentimes something else gets cut,” he said.

READ MORE: London area school trustees commit to installing defibrillators in all schools

The push to install AED devices in schools and public spaces came following the death of 15-year-old Andrew Stoddart of Thamesford. The Ingersoll Collegiate District Institute student suffered sudden cardiac arrest and died while playing soccer in May 2015. There was no AED on hand at the field.

Ontario has no law regarding the installation of AEDs. The education ministry leaves the decision up to individual boards to equip schools with the devices.

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“There has been a couple instances where [the board] has provided AEDs in schools, where we have a student that has a medical concern,” said Skinner on Friday, “but the vast majority of the AEDs are being funded through fundraising efforts through the community, and that’s actually a common occurrence across Ontario.”

The TVDSB has been lagging behind other school boards in the region in installing the machines. The LDSCB has AEDs installed in most of their schools, while district school boards including Avon Maitland, Lambton-Kent, and Huron-Perth have the devices in all of their schools.

A survey in March of 42 school boards in Ontario found a majority, 29, said they had AEDs in all of their schools. Six said they had AEDs in a majority of their schools, while six, one of which was TVDSB, said they had the devices in some.

READ MORE: Elgin council supports push for defibrillator policy at Thames Valley District School Board (Mar. 15, 2017)

Skinner, who represents west and central London, said the board’s goal of installing 40 AED machines every year in three to five years was something administration found manageable.

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“Something we can definitely do is hit the 40 and then continue from there,” he said. “The estimate would be between three to five years, but if we could have the funding in place, we will install all the AEDs right away, so long as we have the funding to do that.”

McCall said once the group hit their goal, they would present cheques to the TVDSB and LDCSB. Those who donate $20 or more will receive a tax receipt from the school board.

“If people continue to donate at that point, we will continue to direct those funds right to the schools, and they can then start using those funds for the elementary schools,” he said.

Installing the machines as quickly as possible is crucial, McCall added. According to a Heart and Stroke Foundation formula, the TVDSB can expect at least two sudden cardiac arrests in a school board facility each year.

A person’s chances of surviving an episode of sudden cardiac arrest, the leading cause of death in Canada, is around 50 to 75 per cent when an AED is used, compared to five per cent without.

“With what Dad Club London is doing, as well as Andrew Stoddart’s Legacy, through Cara Schmidt, it’s amazing how it’s coming together, and it’s happening and it’s because of the generous donations made by the community,” Skinner said.

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“For that amount [that Dad Club is raising] they would raise enough to cover every last secondary school in Thames Valley with AEDs.”

Information on how to donate to the Dad Club London campaign can be found here.

— With files from Natalie Lovie, Liny Lamberink, and Hala Ghonaim

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