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Device Can Make Schools Heart Attack-Ready

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When 15-year-old Greg Moyer stepped onto the basketball court to play for Notre Dame High School, he had just been elected to the honor roll, and had high hopes of playing football for Penn State one day.

"Greg Moyer, a 6-3 sophomore, comes into the Spartan lineup," the game announcer at East Stroudsburg North High School in East Stroudsburg, Pa., said as the gregarious young man bounced onto the court.

That Dec. 2, 2000, away game would be Greg's last.

"I never thought for one instant that going up to that school 23 miles away from here would be the end of his life," said his mother, Rachel Moyer. "I always called him my baby, even though he was 6-3 and 220 pounds."

Greg played for 10 minutes, and then walked off the court at halftime.

"I made eye contact with him and waved, and he gave me the Greg smile, and we knew everything was OK," said his father, John Moyer.

A Sudden Cardiac Arrest

But everything wasn't OK. Greg collapsed in the locker room. A friend frantically sent for his parents, who raced back to the locker room to discover their only son lying unconscious on the floor.

"I thought perhaps he took a blow in the game that I hadn't seen -- but no way did I ever believe that he was that close to death," John Moyer said.

"I'm saying, 'Gregory, breathe, you're not breathing, why aren't you breathing, Greg? What's the matter?' and he opened his eyes and he gasped for that breath -- and I know he heard me," said Rachel Moyer.

Greg had suffered a sudden cardiac arrest from an enlarged heart that no one knew he had. As the minutes ticked away, it took an unbearably long time for the ambulance to reach the remote Pennsylvania school. Then, it took the ambulance another half hour to reach the hospital.

Once there, the emergency room doctor was unable to save Greg.

"I again asked him to, to try one more time, figuring it would take a miracle, but when it's your child lying there, you try anything you can," John Moyer recalled. "And he said, 'John, it's too late.' "

Rachel Moyer remembers the moment clearly as well.

"I remember going over to Gregory and holding him," she said. "I said, 'Don't anybody tell me that he's in a better place -- because he was so happy here.' "

A Shock to the Heart

At the same time that his parents began coping with Greg's loss, they also learned a disturbing piece of information: A small device known as a defibrillator might have saved their son.

Automatic external defibrillators, or AEDs, are portable versions of the larger machines used in hospitals.

On average, just 7 percent of the approximately 220,000 Americans who suffer a sudden cardiac arrest each year survive. The American Heart Association estimates that as many as 50,000 lives could be saved every year if automatic defibrillators were more widely available, and if people were trained to use them.

When someone suffers a sudden cardiac arrest, the heart's electrical impulses become chaotic, its rhythm becomes abnormal, and the heart is unable to pump blood, said Dr. Tim Johnson, ABCNEWS' medical editor.

But the defibrillator shocks the heart out of its abnormal rhythm and allows it to beat normally again.

However, the key is that the defibrillator must be used within the first 10 minutes, Johnson said. For every minute that goes by, a person's chance of survival decreases by 10 percent.

Turning Grief Into Action

Although AEDs seem like machines only trained medical personnel could use, the truth is that with just a few hours training, anyone can use an AED. The machine literally tells you what to do.

The machine analyzes the patients' heart rhythm -- and then tells the user if a shock is necessary, and allows the user to push a button to dispense the shock.

Within days of Greg's death, the Moyers turned their grief into action by establishing the Gregory Moyer Defibrillator Foundation. They have raised more than $250,000 and donated dozens of the devices to area schools. With their help, back in 2001, then-Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge signed the first law in the country to provide state funding for AEDs in schools.

Only 13 states in the nation have any sort of legislation to get AEDs into schools.

"We want to see a defibrillator in every school in this country," Rachel Moyer said.

"When school districts say we don't have the money, I say give up buying a computer, give up buying a set of dictionaries. Go to your PTA, go have a bake sale, because these machines don't cost that much money," she said. "The average cost is about $2,000 and you can't put a price on a child's head."

It's a lesson the Moyer family has learned too well. There is no tombstone at Greg's grave because his parents say it is a final step that they can't bring themselves to make, despite the legacy he now leaves.

"We know that we're doing the right thing -- but in our hearts, it still hurts just as much," John Moyer said.

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Copyright 2003 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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