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A family's fight to find out what went wrong
The mother of a boy who died of a heart condition in a North Vancouver school says she's never been given an explanation of why the North Vancouver School Board hasn't done anything to make the schools safer for those with heart conditions.
Colleen Badger says after her son David died five years ago, she asked the school to get a life-saving automatic external defibrillator – even hearing a charity was willing to pay for it – but the school said no.
"Why would you not want one if someone's going to provide it for you?" said David Badger's mother, Colleen Badger. "You want to make sure some other family doesn't have to go through what we have."
David Badger was a healthy 15-year-old sea cadet who loved the outdoors. He gave no outward sign of having a condition known as Long QT syndrome, an unusual heart rhythm that increases the risk of the heart simply stopping during exercise.
He collapsed during a gym class at North Vancouver's Argyle Secondary School in 2005. The paramedics were there within four minutes – but they weren't able to save Badger's life.
The B.C. Heart and Stroke Foundation says that only about five per cent of people survive a heart attack outside a hospital. But if there's an Automatic External Defibrillator, or AED, that number rises by about 30 per cent.
"The longer you wait, the less oxygen goes to the brain, and the greater the risk of brain damage," said the Foundation's Sandy Barabe.
Even though children with heart conditions are rare -- about 50 cases are discovered each year in B.C. -- public buildings would also benefit from having the defibrillators for adults who might go into cardiac arrest, Barabe said.
AEDs are becoming more common in workplaces – there's even one at the CTV News offices on Burrard Street in Vancouver.
No one from the North Vancouver School District would agree to be interviewed. The chair of the School Board, Susan Skinner, promised to call back several times, but never did. The acting superintendent, Larry Johnson, said in an e-mail that he had "no information or opinion to provide upon this question."
"AEDs are not required in the School Act nor have they been made a requirement in schools by WorkSafe BC. Moreover, we are unaware of any other School District introducing them to their facilities," wrote the communications manager, Victoria Miles.
We checked -- and it turns out that the North Vancouver School Board hadn't done its homework. Every school in the Edmonton School District has one, as do several Ontario schools.
Another school in North Vancouver made a quick response to David Badger's death: St. Thomas Aquinas had a defibrillator provided to them by the Knights of Columbus.
School Vice Principal Tim Horton says the school hasn't used it yet, but it's worth it.
"It's not a burden. It's a relief to know that if anyone in our school has a heart condition, where it's fibrillating, this device can literally save their lives," said Horton.
The school pays a service charge to keep each machine up to date, Horton said.
Mediquest Technologies, which supplied the defibrillators, says the cost for medical direction would be $180, and the cost of a training course would be $600, meaning it would cost about $780 per year for a school to maintain a defibrillator.
Documents released under a freedom of information request show that while the school did consider using defibrillators after David Badger's death, staff never looked at a precise cost.
In the statement to CTV News, North Vancouver School Board said that the cost of the machines would be "considerable," and upon further questioning stated the cost of installation would be over $50,000.
That's despite both St. Thomas Aquinas and Edmonton having their defibrillators donated -- meaning their costs were zero.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation's Barabe says refusal to even talk about heart safety is typical of people who don't understand the science behind the use of defibrillators.
"I think it's based on fear and lack of knowledge," she said.
When CTV News asked B.C.'s minister of Healthy Living, Ida Chong, whether she would consider funding defibrillator programs, she said her government wasn't planning on it.
"It sounds like a great idea, I'll consider it, but I'm not looking at it until I have more information available," she said.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Jon Woodward