Bill to require defibrillators in Maryland schools introduced in State Senate

Feb. 10, 2006, midnight | By Lois Bangiolo | 18 years, 5 months ago

Legislation proposed in response to death of Andrew Helgeson

The Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee of the Maryland Senate held public testimony on Feb. 8 for SB249, a bill to require automatic external defibrillators (AED) in all Maryland high schools. This bill was introduced by State Senator Sharon Grosfeld in response to the death of Andrew Helgeson, Blair class of 2005, from sudden cardiac arrest last May.

Helgeson passed away on May 25, 2005, a week before his graduation. A star lacrosse player, he had been named the Blair lacrosse team's most valuable senior and first Team All-County lacrosse goalie and was to be awarded Blair's Terry Hicks scholar-athlete award and scholarship. He planned to attend Fairleigh Dickson University in the fall on a full academic scholarship. In reaction to his death, Helgeson's parents have worked to spread awareness of sudden cardiac arrest, gaining the support of Grosfeld. This bill, informally called "Andrew's Law," as a reference to Helgeson, would require all Maryland public and private high schools to have an AED, a device which restarts the heart by delivering an electric shock. According to the Richard Andrew Helgeson Memorial Foundation, between 8,000 and 10,000 students die from sudden cardiac arrest each year.

For an AED to be effective, it must be administered within five minutes. Placing the machines at schools will make them easily and quickly accessible in case of an emergency, providing a reduction in response time that can save a person's life. "Even the EMT people will tell you with the average time it takes them to respond it is too late," said Richard Helgeson, Andrew Helgeson's father. "After ten minutes, the chance of survival is negligible."

Though AEDs are not present in most schools, they are prominent in airports, federal buildings, even jails. "They are in all jails in Maryland. The prisoners are protected, but the kids and teachers are not," said Richard Helgeson. "You'd never build a building without a fire extinguisher. We protect our property, we should protect people."

The only impediment to the passing of this bill is obtaining the funding to pay for the AEDs, said Annette Hartenstein, senior legislative aide to Grosfeld. "At the committee, there were no questions about why we should have [the bill], but how we should fund it," said Hartenstein. Eight Maryland counties less wealthy than Montgomery, such as Anne Arundel, have already placed AED in their schools, said Richard Helgeson. "I feel ashamed that the richest county in the state can't do it, but some of the poorest counties did it voluntarily," he said.

The current estimated cost by the committee is $500,000, which is a very high estimate, according to Richard Helgeson, who believes that the machines could be placed in schools for half that amount. However, he feels that any amount of money spent is worth it if it saves a single life. "This shouldn't happen to any other parents. He had his whole life planned and in a moment, he was taken away," said Rita Helgeson, Andrew Helgeson's mother.

This week, State Delegate Susan Lee will introduce a parallel bill in the House of Delegates, an action that the Helgesons hope will speed the process of legislation.

A similar bill, "Louis's Law," was passed in New York in response to the death of another student lacrosse player. During a lacrosse game, Louis Acompora stopped a ball with his chest. Acompora's heart stopped, and he died on the field. New York also requires that all students receive a course on the use of CPR and AEDs before they receive their diplomas, a requirement the Helgesons believe should be brought to Maryland to augment the already mandatory health education so that all students would be educated in the use of AEDs.

To support these bills, write to:

State Senator Sharon Grosfeld at or State Delegate Susan Lee at

For more information, contact the Richard Andrew Helgeson Memorial Foundation, Inc. at

Lois Bangiolo. Lois Bangiolo was born on March 14, pi day, an auspicious date as she is now in the math-science magnet. In addition to writing for Silver Chips Online she runs track and is secretary of the MBHS Key Club. More »

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