Esmeralda Gomez, a Surrey mom, is “so excited” after hearing that defibrillators will be installed in Surrey high schools.
Gomez has been pushing for months to have automatic external defibrillators installed in Surrey schools after her son Alex, then 14, went into cardiac arrest at the Surrey Sport & Leisure Complex on July 16.
However, the district actually approved the funding and installation for the machines in the spring.
On Wednesday, the Surrey school district announced that defibrillators would be installed in all Surrey secondary schools, and four other district sites (the Bell Performing Arts Centre, the District Education Centre, the District Facilities Centre and the Resource & Education Centre).
The release states that the Surrey Board of Education approved installation of the AEDs in the spring of 2019 and since then, “district staff have worked to develop a detailed information plan.”
The funding for the AEDs was approved in the May 15 meeting during the 2019/2020 budget discussions. The total cost for purchase and installation in all 24 sites was roughly $50,000.
Previously, the former district spokesperson said the district has “long purchased” defibrillators “where there’s a medical need identified,” which would include a prescription from a doctor. The spokesperson said the district would then make arrangements for a support plan for the student, with the student and parents.
Asked if there were plans in the future for the district to purchase defibrillators for schools, the spokesperson said the provincial health officer “doesn’t see a need for that.”
While not required by legislation, Surrey Board of Education chair Laurie Larsen said in the release that the district wanted to take a “proactive approach” to AEDs.
“We made our decision to install these devices in the spring of this year. The motion was quickly passed as the safety of everyone in our buildings is our top priority. These devices need to be accessible when they are needed,” Larsen said.
Trustee Laurae McNally was the trustee who put forward the request for defibrillators in schools, with it being a concern of hers for “several years.”
“I’ve always been concerned that a student would run into a problem and we didn’t have any of these machines,” McNally said.
In March, McNally said was on a trip with teachers visiting Taiwan, and while she was touring the schools, she noticed there was not only an AED in each school, but one per floor. She began taking photos of all the machines to show the board when she returned.
The board unanimously agreed to purchase and install the machines, McNally said.
“I’m happy, I wish it had been a few years ago,” she said. “If they’re only used once, it’s worth it.”
McNally, who was away over the summer, said she came back to read about Alex’s story and it “reinforced” her thoughts about the district purchasing AEDs.
For Gomez, she said there was “so much excitement” when she heard the news.
“I was just so excited. It just felt like we did it because it wasn’t just about me. A lot of people helped spread awareness,” Gomez said.
Ideally, Gomez said, her goal would be to make defibrillators available in elementary schools.
“I know cardiac arrests are a little bit lower for younger children, but there’s staff members as well,” said Gomez, adding that she would also like to see AEDs in sports clubhouses.
As for Alex, Gomez said he’s doing well and has started playing soccer again.
“He’s been officially cleared to return, so he just played his first game over the weekend and also participated in the school’s team. Just trying to go back to living his old, normal life as a teenage boy,” she said.
“Obviously he’s really excited and he’s happy as well. This has hit him really hard… the attention he gets and everybody talking about it.”
The district began installing the AED cabinets this week and staff training and orientation is scheduled to start next week, with the defibrillators being placed on each site once training is complete.