March 16, 2023
March is National Athletic Trainer’s Month! Athletic trainers play a critical role in the safety of student-athletes across the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. It is important that athletic trainers are equipped with the necessary lifesaving equipment needed to help save athletes from sudden cardiac arrest.
We sat down with Dr. Christy Eason, President of Sports Safety & Education and Director of innovATe at the Korey Stringer Institute, to learn tips for athletic trainers to ensure they are always prepared for the unpredictable and that their AEDs are always rescue-ready!
Where should the AED be kept when it is out on the field?
In the most prominent place possible, where everyone can see it. Don’t tuck the AED behind the bench or under a coat. Ideally, place it close to the middle of the field or court and make sure coaches, officials, visiting teams, and even your student athletes know where the AED is and what its’ case looks like. Be consistent and put it in the same place every time.
How often should you check the battery and pads on your AED?
The best advice I can give is to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Batteries and pads typically need to be replaced every 2-5 years. At KSI, we actually check our AEDs every month. For most athletic trainers I’d recommend checking at the start of every sport season – fall, winter, spring. It’s also a good idea to have some kind of spreadsheet to list the expiration dates of pads and batteries of all AEDs and make sure you check well in advance of the expiration to make sure your replacements arrive in time.
What suggestions do you have when it comes to helping coaches become more aware about sudden cardiac arrest, CPR, AEDS, and emergency action plans?
Don’t be afraid to talk about cardiac issues with your coaches. Many people don’t think young healthy people can have heart disease and we have to get away from the notion that sudden cardiac arrest is rare. Ideally, you’ll review and rehearse your Emergency Action Plan with your coaches each year. This would be the perfect time to provide some education. Let coaches know that if an athlete collapses in the absence of contact, they should always assume a cardiac event. You can’t hurt someone by simply putting AED pads on and having the heart rhythm analyzed. Don’t be afraid to explain what agonal breathing and seizures are and that both are common during a cardiac event. We’d also want to see every coach have CPR/AED training and make sure they all know where the nearest AED is.
Can you talk about the NFL’s practice of a medical timeout that occurs 60 minutes before the game between all medical personnel on site?
Before every NFL game, a meeting is held 60 minutes before game time to ensure that all officiating crew, club medical staff, and gameday medical staff are aware of the in-game player health and safety medical procedures. This meeting is critically important and ensures that players receive the best care possible. During the meeting they review logistics, including the location of emergency equipment and medical call-signs and they also review the emergency action plan. This is the standard operating procedure and there is not a game that takes place where this meeting doesn’t occur. While colleges and high school sports may not have the same number of medical personnel, it is recommended that this medical timeout occur briefly before every college and high school game. Athletes at all levels deserve optimal heath care and the best time to prepare for an emergency is before it happens.
Do you have suggestions for how to handle only having one AED with multiple games and/or practices going on at once?
This is tricky, but a very common situation, especially in high schools. In this situation it is crucially important that everyone (coaches, administrators, medical care providers) are familiar with the emergency action plan. My recommendation would be for the athletic trainer to keep a portable AED with them if they are on-site and ensure that all sports personnel know how to recognize the signs of a sudden cardiac arrest, know their first step is to call the Athletic Trainer to get the AED on scene ASAP in the event of a sudden cardiac arrest, have someone else call EMS, and immediately begin CPR so that oxygen will continue circulating while waiting to apply the AED. If the Athletic trainer is not on-site, the AED should be left in a central location, everyone should know the AT is not on-site, and the location of the AED needs to be well known to all sport personnel. We never want to see an AED locked in an office or its location be unknown.
What are some ways you can advocate with your administration to get more AEDS for your school?
Talk to them. Educate them on the importance of having an AED within 1-3 minutes of all athletic venues. Share research and data and stories. Look to see if there are any laws that require access to AEDs, not everyone is always aware of the requirements. Build support through parent groups who can help to advocate. Try to approach the situation with solutions. Keep talking and don’t stop talking.
Should athletic trainers educate their athletes about CPR, AEDS, and the emergency action plan?
The more people that know CPR and how to use the AED, the better. Bystander response is very important during a cardiac event. It’s likely that a sudden cardiac collapse could occur when the athletic trainer is not present and if a student-athlete knows to get help and start CPR, we can save more lives. We’ve sadly heard of cases where an athletic trainer sent an athlete to retrieve the AED and because the athlete didn’t know what the AED looked like or where it was, care was significantly delayed. Many states require high school students to receive CPR and AED training as part of their graduation requirements, so yes, I’d love to see more student-athletes be involved in the cardiac chain of survival.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
We all saw a team of medical professionals save a life after a cardiac event during a Monday Night Football game. All of these individuals are amazing, but it is important to remember that it doesn’t take a team of 30 to save a life during a sudden cardiac arrest. If you have the appropriate education to recognize a cardiac event, an accessible AED, a venue-specific emergency action plan, and advanced cardiac care (calling EMS), you can save a life.
Dr. Eason is President of Sports Safety & Education and Director of innovATe at the Korey Stringer Institute. She received her Doctorate of Sports Management at UConn, and is a former Assistant Professor of Athletic Training and graduate school coordinator for the School of Health Sciences at Lasell University.