Below is a story published in the Mercury News’ Wishbook. It’s about a drive to increase availability of AED’s utilizing the story of YMCA Camp Arroyo Outdoor Ed student Carlo Cooney as a prime example of their importance. It was an unfathomable event when he fell unconscious while climbing on our Camp Arroyo rock wall last March. However, the story just keeps going on because, by all accounts, it was a pretty remarkable outcome when camp staff helped save his life by utilizing their training and the onsite AED until paramedics arrived. The YMCA of the East Bay couldn’t be more proud of our staff, who handled it all perfectly, and couldn’t be more grateful for Carlo’s full recovery. We are honored for our role in this story and to see the momentum around making more AEDs available. (Note, our rock wall is outside.)
Carlo Cooney doesn’t remember what happened after he slipped into unconsciousness while dangling from a climbing rope on a school outing in March.
But the boy and his parents are grateful for what staff members at YMCA’s Camp Arroyo in Livermore did next.
A staff member and schoolteacher lowered the 9-year-old to the floor near the indoor rock wall, called 911 and administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Another staffer raced to the facility’s dining hall, grabbed an automated external defibrillator that hangs on a wall and attached it to Carlo, who needed a shock to regain his pulse.
And perhaps save his life.
Had Carlo’s episode occurred on a playing field or some other place without a defibrillator present, the outcome might have been tragically different. The boy suffers from a rare heart condition that had been previously undetected.
“The symptoms are you faint or you die,” Carlo’s father, David, said. “It’s as raw as that.”
Carlo’s experience has brought into focus the need for making external defibrillators as commonplace as fire extinguishers in schools, office buildings and playgrounds, which is a primary goal of Racing Hearts, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit spearheaded by Stephanie Martinson.
She said that people dismissed the need when she started the project three years ago. “They just assume their loved ones will be saved.”
David and Griselda Cooney, of El Cerrito, now know that’s not the case.
Jason Wagner, 9, Carlo Cooney, 10, and Carson Ng, 11, line up their shots while performing putting drills during their weekly golf lesson.
The first inclination of cardiac trouble often can be fatal, particularly for those suffering from an irregular heartbeat. However, administering an immediate electric shock after an episode can lead to a better than 90 percent survival rate, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survival rate decreases by almost 10 percent with each minute of delay in shocking the heart.
In Carlo’s case, the shock was vital because it took emergency crews about 15 minutes to reach the remote East Bay camp.
Portable defibrillators — like the one used on Carlo — monitor victims’ heartbeats and recommend when to give an electric shock. Often referred to as an AED, the battery-operated machine weighs about 5 pounds and uses computerized voice prompts, lights and text messages to guide operators through steps to treat a victim.
After Carlo was first treated, paramedics transferred him to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland by helicopter. He spent almost a month at the hospital, where physicians determined that Carlo suffers from catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, a condition in which physical activity or emotional stress can trigger an abnormal heart rhythm.
Doctors implanted a pacemaker and internal defibrillator into Carlo’s chest to help control his heartbeat. His days of playing soccer like his older sisters are over. Baseball also is off limits.
“I can play golf,” Carlo, now 10, said as he listed other restrictions: no chocolate, caffeine or playing with magnets. He can’t enter through security with metal detectors when attending games of his beloved Giants and Warriors.
But thanks to access to an AED, Carlo can dream about becoming an inventor of video games one day.
David Cooney, left, with son Carlo Cooney, 10, and wife Griselda. "Carlo’s story needs to be heard,” Griselda Cooney said. “He’s going to save lives. There is a reason why he is here.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 61 million Americans suffer from cardiovascular disease, leading to 1 million deaths annually. About a third of those deaths are the result of the sudden loss of heart function known as cardiac arrest, which isn’t the same as having a heart attack. A person goes into cardiac arrest when the heart unexpectedly stops beating. It often involves a malfunction in the normal heart rhythm that can be fixed with an electric shock known as defibrillation.
In the past decade, the use of defibrillators has become a standard treatment before paramedics and physicians arrive at a scene.
In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law legislation that makes it easier and less expensive for local governments, schools and businesses to install external defibrillators. Lawmakers also modified requirements involving immunity for the use of the devices. Racing Hearts’ Martinson helped lobby for the legislation.
Martinson, a speech pathologist at Veterans Affairs Hospital in Palo Alto, launched her group with a dual mission of increasing awareness about defibrillators and getting them in public places, but particularly in underserved communities.
Like Carlo, Martinson suffered life-threatening episodes before physicians diagnosed her as having an enlarged heart. The 43-year-old mother of two now has an implanted internal defibrillator — which is different than the AEDs — to help monitor her condition.
She had the defibrillator implanted in her chest after she became a mother. Still, it has its own challenges. In 2007, the device malfunctioned during a Lake Tahoe snowboard trip and shocked Martinson’s heart 26 times while she was awake.
“Something that was supposed to save me was killing me,” she said. “I felt like an airplane was crashing on top of me every time” it shocked her. It was removed, and another one wasn’t implanted again until this year.
The experience gave her a keen awareness of the need for external defibrillators in public places. In 2012, she created Racing Hearts and bought two devices to lend out where needed. Devices cost $1,500 to $2,500 for most models.
The group now has placed more than 200 defibrillators in the Bay Area, and in June the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors set aside $500,000 for an automated external defibrillator matching funds reserve.
Wish Book readers can help Racing Hearts raise $25,000 to place AEDs in local schools and make sure kids such as Carlo are safe on school grounds. Contributions will be matched by the government funds to create defibrillator programs throughout the county.
“When we came out of the hospital, we said Carlo’s story needs to be heard,” Griselda Cooney said. “He’s going to save lives. There is a reason why he is here.”
Carlo suffers from a heart condition in which physical activity can trigger an abnormal heart rhythm. His days of playing soccer like his older sisters are over. Baseball also is off limits. “I can play golf,” Carlo says.