Dad urges support of cardiac emergency drills in Michigan schools

May 3, 2013

Kimberly Gillary, 15, died of cardiac arrest while playing in a high school water polo game.
Kimberly Gillary, 15, died of cardiac arrest while playing in a high school water polo game.
Credit kimberlysgift.org

The state House Education Committee this week heard testimony from parents whose children died in school after suffering cardiac arrest.

Among those parents was Randy Gillary. His 15-year-old daughter, Kimberly, collapsed during a high school water polo game in 2000. 

Gillary says although CPR was begun immediately, it was too late. Kimberly was removed from life support two days later.

"We basically lost her on the pool deck," Gillary says.

Kimberly is one of 246 Michigan schoolchildren -- many of them athletes -- who have died of undiagnosed cardiac disease since 1999.

"She was always in excellent physical condition," Gillary says of his daughter. "She started swimming at four. She played basketball. She played tennis."

But no one knew she was at risk.

Two House bills under consideration (HB 4272 and HB 4273) would require schools to include a drill at least once a year to instruct staff and students in the use of automated external defibrillators.

"It is vitally important that the people participating in trying to save someone's life doesn't have to stop and think, 'What do I have to do now? Where do I have to go? How am I supposed to work this machine," Gillary says.

Gillary and his family established a foundation, Kimberly's Gift,  to create awareness about AEDs.

"Our mission has been to try to prevent other families from going through this," Gillary says. "We've raised about $1.2 million, and donated more than 628 AEDs to high schools in Michigan. When we donate, we also pay for training for five staff members, and then require that they adopt an AED program -- a set of policies and procedures for responding to a cardiac emergency."

Gillary says several hospital groups in Michigan, including Beaumont, offer free screening for cardiac conditions.

"They use an EKG, and if there's any indication of possible abnormalities, they'll be referred for a cardiac ultrasound," Gillary says. "They've been effective in identifying kids who are potentially at risk and should not be playing sports."

The House  has not yet taken action on the measures.

For more information: www.kimberlysgift.org