Calif. man pushes for wider AED distribution

Jack Grogan became an advocate for the life-saving tool after suffering a heart attack on a flight from Chicago


San Jose Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. — In November 2002 an automated external defibrillator helped save Jack Grogan's life when he suffered sudden cardiac arrest on a flight leaving Chicago.

The AED not only saved his life, it changed it.

Following bypass surgery, Grogan became an advocate and volunteer instructor in the use of AEDs and CPR. He also co-founded the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association, which has grown into the nation's largest nonprofit advocacy organization singularly focused on SCA.

Grogan continued his work for seven years, until February 2010, when he collapsed at Mineta San Jose Airport. Even though his son Dale was there and used an AED, it did not work a second time.

Grogan not only taught others to use an AED, he bought several and donated them.

In July 2010 one of those AEDs donated to Presentation High School in Willow Glen saved the life of Lynn Harris.

There to watch his daughters Emma, now a 17-year-old junior at Presentation, and Abby, now 11, participate in a swim meet, Harris remembers little of what happened that fateful day.

"I was there watching my children's swim meet, and I left my wife to get a drink of water and collapsed outside the pool area," he recalls.

"Fortunately, someone heard me fall, came out to take a look and called for help. A nurse watching the event came out and began the CPR process."

Paul Watts, pool manager at the school, ran to the gym for the AED machine and brought it back.

"They were able to use that to keep me going until an ambulance came," Harris says.

The ambulance took Harris to Valley Medical Center, treating what turned out to be ventricular fibrillation and a fractured skull, a result of his fall.

"I feel very fortunate," Harris says. "I feel very blessed there were people there to respond as quickly as they did and very thankful that Presentation had one of those devices or I wouldn't be here today."

As a result of that incident, Grogan's family recently donated another AED to the school for the pool area.

"I'm passionate about getting them into our schools," says Anita Grogan, Jack's widow. "I think it's terrible we don't have them in California schools. It's a safety thing. With cardiac arrest you need someone there very quickly to save the person. There's no warning, no pain. It just happens very quickly and only 5 to 7 percent who have cardiac arrest live."

Grogan, who worked alongside her late husband and has continued his campaign to promote the placement of AEDs, says she doesn't know the exact number they have helped place over the years but says, it's huge.

"We're doing as many as we can as we raise more money."

The AEDs work using electrical pads placed on the chest that deliver an electrical current to shock the heart back into a steady rhythm. They are constructed so that anyone not needing a shock will not receive one.

They are most effective if used immediately. The use of a defibrillator within the first minute of collapse shows survival rates of close to 90 percent. If 10 minutes passes before use, survival rates are close to zero.

When an AED is donated, Grogan says they also donate a training device that resembles an AED and helps people learn about and become more comfortable in their use.

An AED guides users with verbal instructions, but Grogan believes advance training is also important.

She likes to use Presentation High as an example because, she says, "Every girl in her sophomore year is trained with CPR and AED in a class."

Grogan's late husband worked with Dianne Lagana, chairwoman of the physical education department at the school, to set up the program and to get the school its first AED.

"Most schools in Santa Clara County don't have AEDs; they just don't have them, and very few do any CPR training," Grogan says. "In other states, every school in the state has them."

The cost of an AED is between $1,500 and $2,500, depending on accessories, Grogan says.

Her group is willing to help PTAs raise money and will provide instructors for any school that buys one.

For more information, visit www.suddencardiacarrest.org.

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