Defibrillator donation to schools strikes heart of community
Mary Lahlum knows that tragedy doesn’t discriminate. It befalls adults and children the same.
“When you lose a kid, it really takes a toll on the community,” she said Wednesday. “Every time I turn around, I hear about something else. A cheerleader in L.A. A guy running a marathon in Scotland. It doesn’t discriminate.”
Lahlum expressed nothing but gratitude for those community members who recently came together to fund eight automated external defibrillators in Douglas County schools. At the same time, she hopes the machines will never be used.
“At least they’ll be there,” she said. “Minutes count. If an AED is on the premises, it can buy time for the person until medical professionals arrive on scene.”
Lahlum is a health aide at Gardnerville Elementary School, but she has more than a professional stake in the medical technology.
“It’s near and dear to me,” she said. “If it saves one life, then all the cost and work put into it is so worthwhile.”
In April 2009, Lahlum’s 15-year-old daughter collapsed at a swim meet in Carson City. Molly Lahlum, a sophomore at Douglas High, was pulled from the water and given CPR on scene. She died two weeks later while in intensive care at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno.
“Whatever it was, it chose them. Why? I don’t know,” Lahlum said of her daughter and others who have suffered. “But now, if someone goes down here, we can give them a few extra minutes until paramedics arrive.”
The mother is not alone in her cause. Molly was the third student to die from an incident on school property, or at a school function, in the last five years.
In May 2007, Joe Molter, a 13-year-old eighth-grader from Carson City, died after falling unconscious during a track meet at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School.
In September of the same year, 8-year-old Britt Mattinson, a third-grader at Minden Elementary School, collapsed during football practice on the lawn of the Douglas County School District Office in Minden. Resuscitation efforts made at a nearby hospital were unsuccessful.
On Monday, Britt’s family met Lahlum and Julie Molter at the district office for a presentation of eight AEDs, which will be distributed to every school site not already equipped. School nurses and staff members had spent the day training for first aid, CPR, and use of the defibrillators. Training will continue into spring with help from the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District.
“We’re going to train approximately 10 more staff at each school,” said DCSD Chief Nurse Jen Ellis. “There will be a code-blue theme at each facility, and they’ll be trained on this particular Powerheart AED. That way if something happens, we’ll know who can respond. There should be plenty of trained staff on campus at any given time.”
Lahlum said the devices are easy to use.
“The machine talks and walks you through everything. You can’t mess up,” she said. “I talked to our principal, Mr. Brown, and we’re going to temporarily mount one close to the multipurpose room until the new multipurpose room is built. It’s a great place because the room is used for all sorts of activities. An AED will be good not only for our students and staff, but for everyone who comes in.”
Ellis explained the origins of the donation. When she became head nurse in 2010, she realized only four of 12 schools had AEDs on campus. She then started a fundraising campaign to equip the remaining schools.
“After countless letters I had written in the winter of 2010 and spring of 2011, John Carne, president of the Minden Rotary Club, came through for us,” she said. “With the help of one very special woman named Ginger Easley, of ReMax Realty Affiliates, they together raised us nearly $14,000 through donations from various generous and caring people and organizations in our community.”
Donations came from organizations like Carson Valley Medical Center, and from individuals like Alex and Jessie Hilgenberg of Anytime Fitness.
“I’m still in shock that our community is so generous,” Ellis said. “This wouldn’t have happened without them.”
Ellis hopes that other school districts take Douglas County’s lead.
“I really hope that other districts in Nevada see this as an inspiration to do the same type of project,” she said. “There is no reason not to. It’s such a life-saving machine.”