The scene was replayed so many times on national television that it is burned into memory: Wes Leonard, the star high school basketball player, was lifted into the air by his teammates after making a game-winning shot to give Fennville an undefeated season. But suddenly, Wes slipped out of their arms and suffered cardiac arrest.
But here is the part that has been lost: At first, nobody realized what was happening, and there were a series of mistakes.
“Everybody thought he was dehydrated or overheated,” said Fennville Superintendent Dirk Weeldreyer.
Somebody went to get ice and cold cloths.
Wes gasped for air, which some thought was a good sign. But that is actually a warning sign, commonly seen in cardiac arrest. “That led to the confusion,” Weeldreyer said. “People didn’t recognize what was happening.” Jocelyn screamed for the AED that she thought was on the wall. “I yelled for it because that’s what you are trained to do,” she says.
Jocelyn was trained in CPR. She had taught choir for six years at Fennville High in the music room across the hall from the gym. Day after day, year after year, she walked down the hallway past an AED fixed to the wall. She never noticed that it had been taken down.
“For every minute that the heart is stopped, it’s 10% less likely that you will get the heart restarted,” Jocelyn says. “So after 10 minutes, you don’t have much of a chance.”
Fennville principal Amber Lugten found the machine in a storage room and brought it out for Wes, 16. But the battery was dead. Ten minutes passed, and any hope of saving him was gone. Big Wes, the handsome, small-town hero, was dead.
“You are mad,” Jocelyn Leonard says. “There is no one to blame. I’ve never blamed anyone. I’m just so sad about it. I’m sad that it’s a $1,500 fix.”
Lugten said the AED was taken down because kids would open the case as a prank, which caused a loud, distracting alarm. “We made a very poor decision to take it down,” she said.
There was a working AED in a nearby building, but nobody thought to get it. “It probably would have taken three or four minutes to run there and get it,” Weeldreyer said. “That’s why we are trying to teach everybody these warning signs.”
On Monday June 28th 2010, 62 year old Kentucky resident John Hess entered the water in the Gulf behind Hidden Dunes Resort in Miramar Beach.
Surf conditions were rough and red flags were flying.
Sean Hughes of the South Walton Fire District says the waters were not safe for the public to swim in that day.”Under red flags, knee-deep is too deep, so… certainly at the shoreline, but any deeper than that you run a serious risk of getting into trouble.”
Hess did get into trouble. He was pulled from the water at 1:20 in the afternoon.
Walton County Sheriff’s deputies arrived on scene two minutes later, with the South Walton Fire District arriving six minutes after deputies.
By 2:00 John Hess was dead.
Before the fire district paramedics arrived, an off-duty doctor on the scene, asked one of the walton county deputies for an automatic external defibrillator, or a-e-d, to treat hess.
“We were made aware that they were asking for that and there wasn’t one available” says Hughes.
Camile Cox,Public Information Officer for the Walton County Sheriff’s Office says the AED was on scene but didn’t have working batteries. She says the deputies on scene did all they could to find an alternative defribillator.
“They actually went to Hidden Dunes to see if there was one in their workout room, but his (the deputy’s) just did not have a battery, a working battery. He had notified our AED coordinator. The battery was ordered and was replaced the very next day.”
Sheriff’s officials say they don’t have any records of that particular AED’s last inspection.
They are not checked daily because the batteries usually last four-to-five years.
“The AED by design is not necessarily supposed to be checked daily because it’s long term, sitting idling, waiting for use. I can’t speak to what their maintenance schedules are or how they’re being maintained” Hughes says.
Back in 2005, The South Walton Fire District gave the Sheriff’s Office thirty brand new defibrillators obtained through a grant, but the upkeep is the responsibility of the Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff’s officials say they ordered a battery for the AED in question before the incident because of a routine inspection
“We have a Lieutenant at the Sheriff’s Office who monitors that equipment. They do an inspection once every three months” Cox says.
When asked when the last inspection was Cox stated “I’m not sure, but I know they do them periodically”.
Even if the defibrillator was working, it’s no guarantee Hess would have survived.
Hughes says there’s no way to tell.
“Not every heart attack is a shockable rhythm. Shocking everyone?… If you’re under the belief that’s the course of action, it’s not necessarily the course of action. It interprets it and if it’s a shockable rhythm it will deliver a shock. It’s all speculation in these set of circumstances. Would it have made a difference? I don’t think anyone could say conclusively yes or no” Hughes says.
Last year, Lahey, 14, was playing hockey in Chester, N.S., when a puck hit him in the chest, causing heart failure.
“Kenzie grabbed his chest, dropped to his knees and fell to the ice,” said his mother Tanya Lahey, who spoke about the importance of defibrillators during a Heart and Stroke Foundation event Saturday.
“The referee immediately called for help. I dropped everything and ran out on to the ice.”
She was joined by an off-duty respiratory therapist, a doctor whose son played on the opposing team, and others. All originally thought her son was having a seizure.
“It wasn’t long before we realized we were dealing with much more than a seizure.”
CPR was performed and the rink was equipped with a defibrillator, but the battery for the potentially life-saving equipment was not charged.
However, a nearby ambulance had a working defibrillator and after two shocks, Kenzie’s heart regained regular rhythm.
He was then stabilized, sent to the IWK hospital and released a few days later. Six months after the March 27 incident he was back on the ice.
“Tests showed he had no underlying heart condition, so it was determined a one-in-a-million shot sent his heart into defibrillation,” Lahey said.
One doctor told her the stars had to align for her son’s heart to stop and a lot more had to align to save him.
She’s hoping other lives won’t be left to chance, which is why she shared her memories of the incident on Saturday and emphasize the importance of defibrillators.
“Kenzie’s story definitely has a happy ending, but the fact the defibrillator at the rink did not work is very unfortunate,” she said.
“The first thing I do when I enter an arena is check to see if the light is on on the defibrillator. If you see a flashing light, you know you are good to go.”