In November, a junior varsity football player in Massachusetts collapsed on the field and was pronounced dead just hours later. Michael Ellsessar, a tight end for Oxford (Mass.) High, died after a collision with players for Quaboag (Mass.) Regional High, on a play in which two different Quaboag defenders combined to tackle the sophomore.
Months after Ellsessar was laid to rest, his father continues to campaign for more widespread access to external defibrillators, which he claims might have saved his son's imperiled life after he hit the turf.
"Every school should have one," John Ellsessar told CNN. "If we're losing kids to cardiac arrest because of commotio cordis, we have an opportunity to stop and prevent it. Why shouldn't we be advocating that?"
Commotio cordis, which the elder Ellsessar refers to in the above quote, is a rare occurrence where a person is hit at a precise point during a particular moment of the cardiac cycle, sending a jolting impact which disrupts the natural rhythm of the heart and instantly sends it into ventricular fibrillation.
It's now believed that Michael Ellsessar suffered from commotio cordis in the moments before his death. While an off-duty Massachusetts State Trooper, Joseph Hilton, was officiating the game between Oxford and Quaboag and rushed in to perform CPR, he was unable to revive the 16-year-old before an ambulance arrived, with Ellsessar in full cardiac arrest by the time EMTs reached the scene.
If an automatic external defibrillator (or AED) had been available at Ellsessar's game, it's possible that his heart could have been restarted well before EMTs arrived, at which point he was too far gone to be brought back. That potential is providing significant momentum for a proposed Congressional Act which would require all schools to have an AED on site.
The Josh Miller HEARTS Act would accomplish that exact goal, at a cost of anywhere between $1,000-$2,000 per AED purchased. That cost inspired the Senate to stall on passing the measure last fall after it had already been approved by the House of Representatives. While members of the Senate roundly praised the goals of the act -- which has been supported by the American Heart Association -- the body of Congress raised questions about the total cost of the measure.
Yet at least one doctor believes that paying for AED's at every school in the country will save money as well as lives.
"Units cost $1,000 if bought in bulk," Dr. Terry Gordon, a retired cardiologist, told CNN. "The cost of transporting a child from the football field to ER is more than $1,000 -- in which time, they could get brain damage. The cost to everyone is in the millions. This is cost-effective."
It would also be effective in its true aim, saving lives, according to one college student who was saved in high school after she collapsed during a team practice.
The AEDs should be in every school, said Leah Olverd, who survived a heart attack at the age of 14.
"If someone didn't spend $1,200, I wouldn't be standing here," she said. "I can't imagine putting a price on a child. How could you say these kids aren't worth $1,200?"
In 2006, Olverd, then a high school sophomore, collapsed during volleyball practice. Her coaches shocked her four times using an AED that was available at her school.
"In the beginning, schools would say they didn't want it because of liability," said Olverd, who is now a sophomore at Fordham University. "They were nervous about it. Now, it's a liability to not have it. We should have them all over the place. Not to have an AED is like not having a fire extinguisher."