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Incident at Ohio Community Center Shows Need for Greater Availability of AEDs

AKRON, Ohio -- She normally prays silently.

Deanna "Dee" Norflee prayed aloud the day she saved Bart Skinner's life.

"Please, Lord Jesus," she said between sobs as she hooked an automatic external defibrillator, or AED, unit to Skinner, who was in cardiac arrest. "Right now, if you give me the strength to do your will "

Norflee, a recreation director at Summit Lake Community Center in Akron, Ohio, had just watched the 55-year-old Skinner take what could be his last breath. Only seconds earlier he was sprinting up and down the basketball court.

"Press the button," the AED unit told her.

Norflee did as instructed and felt like she was being shocked as she watched Skinner's body jerk. He began to make a gurgling noise that meant he was breathing again.

Skinner, who was revived by paramedics a second time on the way to an area hospital but is now doing well, credits Norflee's quick actions with saving his life. His basketball teammates honored Norflee with a plaque and fruit basket, and she was recognized by Akron as the city's Employee of the Month for January.

"An AED is one of those things -- a tool -- that, under the right circumstances, with the right timing, can provide you with positive results," Akron Fire Capt. Dale Evans said. "Sometimes that's not the case."

Evans said Skinner was in good physical shape, his problem was recognized early, Norflee and others at the community center quickly provided him with help and he survived.

Norflee remembers sitting in the community center office, feeling sorry for herself before she had to spring into action to help Skinner.

"I was sitting there complaining," recalls Norflee, 32, who is also a substitute special-education teacher for Akron Public Schools and an assistant boys varsity basketball coach at Buchtel High School. "There was so much going on."

"Do you see that?" her co-worker suddenly asked.

Norflee looked into the gym from her office and saw Skinner slouched over. She dialed 911 and told them to hurry; they had a possible heart attack.

In the gymnasium, basketball players, spectators and attendees from the Narcotics Anonymous meeting in the adjoining room buzzed around, with everyone wanting to help.

One person said they needed to elevate Skinner's legs. Someone said to grab a chair. Norflee told them they needed to lay Skinner flat.

A nurse who is the wife of one of the players started CPR. Norflee's co-worker grabbed the AED and, together, they ripped open Skinner's shirt. Norflee paused for a moment, perplexed because the AED wasn't identical to the one she had been trained on. She then noticed an illustration inside that showed her what to do.

Skinner let out a noise, expelling his breath, and Norflee knew he was gone.

The AED, which had been reading Skinner's rhythm, told her to push the button. Norflee told a man touching Skinner's shoulder to back off and then pushed the button. It delivered an immediate shock that made Skinner jump.

"It felt like I was shocked," Norflee said. "You go through the class, but it's nothing like the real deal."

Skinner made a gurgling sound that told Norflee he was breathing. He didn't immediately come to, though, and his eyes rolled into the back of his head.

"Why isn't it going off again?" someone asked.

When the paramedics rushed in, Norflee told them, "He was gone for about three. Then pressed. One shock," an accounting she later realized didn't quite make sense, but was enough to get the point across.

Norflee worried about Skinner until a firefighter who made a run to the community center about 45 minutes later because of a blown fuse told her he was in Akron General Medical Center's emergency room, singing.

"Tears of joy came so fast," she said. "It was a relief."

Skinner doesn't remember singing in the emergency room.

In fact, he doesn't remember much until he woke up in the ER with a sore chest and his sister, Celeste Hicks, at his side.

"I'm scared," he told her.

She squeezed his hand, and he felt better.

Doctors told Skinner he suffered a heart attack brought on by dehydration and a partially blocked artery. In the days that followed, they pumped him full of fluids, used a cardiac catheter on him and put in shunts and a pacemaker.

When Skinner celebrated his birthday Dec. 7, his friends told him he was 1 again. "You were gone and had a new birthday," they said.

The experience has given both Skinner and Norflee a new outlook.

"My faith in the Lord is strong but not as strong as it should be," Norflee said. "Complaining. Going on. How dare I complain!

"He showed me something through you," Norflee said to Skinner, getting teary as they sat side-by-side at the community center where she saved him. "For me to embrace what I have, instead of wondering why things don't go the way I want them to go."

Skinner is thankful he had his heart attack in a place that had an AED and where someone was trained to use it. He has been trained to use the device because he volunteers at House of the Lord, his church, which has a fitness center. He now thinks AEDs need to be available in more places.

"I think they should be everywhere," he said.

Skinner isn't alone in that opinion.

Terry Gordon, a retired Akron General doctor, has been leading a campaign for many years to make AEDs more readily available.

He was successful in getting AEDs added in all middle and high schools in Summit County, then in schools across the state, and in having them put in law enforcement vehicles in Summit County. He has yet to achieve his goal of helping provide them for every school across the country.

U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Copley Township, has introduced legislation three times that would provide federal funding for this addition. The legislation, which Sutton is shepherding in honor of Josh Miller, a Barberton High School football player who died of cardiac arrest during a football game in 2000, made it through the House twice, only to be rejected in the Senate because of the expense.

"The travesty is: If you walk through the halls of Congress, there are AEDs everywhere -- four or five on each floor," Gordon said. "Our senators are protected, but not our children."

Gordon said at least 192 children have died in schools since Sutton's bill first made it through the House in 2008 -- a number that he says could be higher because it's an estimate compiled by a Parent Heart Watch.

Beyond schools, Gordon thinks AEDs should be in all high-rise buildings, golf courses, churches and shopping malls. He said they should be treated on par with smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.

Local governments aren't required to have AEDs in their buildings, but many have them and are providing training to employees in how to use them.

Because of Akron's three incidents in such a short time period, the city plans to re-examine its distribution of AEDs to determine if more are needed and if enough are available in the buildings in which they're already located.

Beacon Journal reporters Kathy Antoniotti and Paula Schleis and correspondent Gina Mace contributed to this report.


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