Thirteen-year old Dilshaan Dhaliwal, from Oliver, B.C., made headlines after he suffered a cardiac arrest in gym class in late January.
“I finished the run and I randomly collapsed,” Dhaliwal explained in an interview from his hospital bed.
However, the availability of the devices varies wildly between Okanagan school districts.
If Dhaliwal’s collapse had happened at a different Okanagan school, there may not have been an AED on hand.
In the Okanagan Similkameen School District, where Dhaliwal attends, there are eight AEDs and the district is ordering more so that all their schools and board office will be covered.
“I feel like every school should have AED, because you never know,” Dhaliwal said.
The Okanagan Skaha School District, which serves Penticton, has AEDs in its three high schools, thanks to outside grants, but not its primary schools.
It’s a similar situation in the Central Okanagan School District, which has 13 of the devices, covering all its high schools and some administrative areas but not elementary schools.
In the Vernon School District, the five high schools and the school board office are all equipped with AEDs but not the primary schools.
Meanwhile, the North Okanagan – Shuswap School District has no AEDs, but the board plans to discuss the possibility of buying some at a meeting next week.
The devices pose a dilemma for cash-strapped school districts.
They’re not cheap. The least expensive option for sale on the St. Johns Ambulance site is more than $1,300 and it’s rare for kids to go into cardiac arrest and need them.
However, when an emergency does happen, they can make all the difference.
“Thankfully, Dilshaan, because of the prompt CPR, and the prompt AED deployment has actually had a miraculous rescue and is doing very well,” said Dr. Shubhayan Sanatani, head of cardiology at B.C. Children’s Hospital, where Dhaliwal was treated.
Dhaliwal’s Oliver-area school has had an AED for six years and his collapse was the first time they’ve used it.
Although cardiac arrest is uncommon in young people, it can happen without warning, so Sanatani sees the value of AEDs in schools.
“It can happen anywhere or anytime. Schools are a place where there are a lot of people gathered doing physical activity and spending a lot of time there, so I think schools are an opportunity to deploy AEDs,” Sanatani said.
However, for now, whether an AED is on hand at your local school varies wildly depending on where you live.