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Near-death experience helping save lives in NH

New Hampshire Sunday News

February 01. 2014 10:23PM

Matthew Keene, right, is with Craig Evans, the referee who was saved with an AED in Raymond. (Courtesy)
More on AEDs
There are more than 3,000 registered AEDs in locations across New Hampshire. Here's where the majority are:
Airport: 14
Ambulance: 31
Business: 928
Church: 57
Fire: 174
Library: 43
Medical Office: 145
Municipality: 255
Nursing Home: 73
Police: 243
School: 865
State Facility: 137

Note: Numbers are actual AED devices (often multiple devices with an agency).
Source: State Bureau of Emergency Medical Services.

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--- For more on AEDs, go to Or contact Bill Wood, preparedness coordinator, Bureau of Emergency Medical Services, at 223-4228 or by email at

-- For information about heart screenings for youngsters ages 12 to 18, go to

The recent resuscitation of a 15-year-old basketball player who went into cardiac arrest at Hopkinton High School was a poignant reminder of the life-saving power of portable defibrillators.

Chris Roberge, a Lebanon High School sophomore, was listed in fair condition Friday at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. He had been airlifted there a week earlier after school personnel and bystanders in the Hopkinton school gym used CPR and an automated external defibrillator (AED) to restart the teen's heart after he was stricken.

The incident might have prompted parents across New Hampshire to wonder: Does my school have one of those?

The good news, according to Bill Wood, AED project coordinator for the state Bureau of Emergency Medical Services, is that every public school in the state - and the "vast majority" of private schools - have AEDs. Many schools have multiple AEDs, so they can be available in different buildings or carried along to athletic events, Wood said.

But there are plenty of other public locations that should have these life-saving devices, Wood said, from fitness clubs to churches. He'd like to see them in "every place where adults congregate."

"They should be just like fire extinguishers," he said.

The growing presence of AEDs in schools, public buildings and police cruisers here is the result of a decade-long push by lawmakers, parents and students. One of those pushing hardest was Matthew Keene.

Keene was a 17-year-old student at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden in 2006 when he collapsed during a football practice. An AED saved his life, he said.

The teenager and his parents, Russell and Edwina Keene of Berlin, became advocates for making AEDs mandatory in New Hampshire schools. Keene even took his message to Washington, D.C., in 2007.

The state Legislature chose not to mandate AEDs; instead, lawmakers voted to "encourage the use and availability" of the devices and make them "widely available" to businesses, schools, fire and police departments and other public and private organizations. They set up a state commission in 2007 to promote AEDs in the schools and seek private funding to purchase them.

Working with that commission and the Foundation for Healthy Communities, Keene started Matt's Mission to raise money to purchase AEDs for schools.

And when a referee collapsed during a basketball game in Raymond three years ago, the defibrillator used to save the man's life was the very first AED purchased and donated by Matt's Mission.

Now 24, Keene lives in Dover and works for a software company. The University of New Hampshire graduate plays softball, golf and hockey and is active in his community. And he still does what he can to promote AEDs in public places.

His message? "I was living an extremely healthy lifestyle; I was a three-sport athlete. If it can happen to me, at the age of 17, it can happen to your children, your parents, your grandparents, your brother or sister. It can happen to anyone."

It's called v-fib

Most cases of cardiac arrest are caused by something called ventricular fibrillation, a cardiac rhythm problem that causes the heart chambers to quiver so the heart pumps little or no blood, according to the American Heart Association. The treatment for this "v-fib" is defibrillation, an electrical shock to the heart, which causes it to resume its normal rhythm.

An AED, used to deliver that shock, typically costs between $1,500 and $2,500, Wood said. But the state has a special deal with two companies that make AEDs to provide them to any business or organization in New Hampshire for $870.

Since 2002, the owners of AEDs, other than those for personal home use, have been legally required to register their locations with the state. It's not about Big Brother watching, Wood said.

His bureau coordinates the AED location data with the state's E-911 system, so when an emergency call for a cardiac arrest comes in, dispatchers can tell whether there's an AED on the premises and instruct those on the scene. That system is in place for land lines, and officials are working to include street addresses in the database so calls that come in from cellphones will also be included, Wood said.

There are currently 3,011 AEDs registered with the EMS bureau, although Wood believes there are many more out there that are not registered.

Noting 300,000 adults die each year from cardiac arrest, Wood said having immediate access to an AED could save some of those lives.

He noted the machine is easy to use and won't deliver a shock if the victim has a heartbeat. Using an AED to try to save someone is also covered under the state's "Good Samaritan" law.

After someone's heart stops beating, Wood said, every minute that passes cuts survival chances by 10 percent. "Time is tissue," he said. "If somebody can defibrillate somebody within the first minutes, even before EMS can get there, the chance of survival is that much greater.

"Literally, every minute counts. Every second counts."

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