You Can Lead a Horse to Water . . .

“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.” What does this proverb mean, anyway? It’s probably used most in the company of someone that doesn’t have the will or desire to engage in a particular task or behavior. However, in the sudden cardiac arrest prevention movement, I think it has an alternative meaning.

Antwon Whitehead died last week playing basketball. He collapsed on the court. Two coaches immediately began performing CPR. An AED device was 30 feet away. The State of Georgia requires that all schools have an AED device.  Think about that for a second. The tool that could have saved Antwon’s life was thirty feet away.

Getting back to our proverb. When you lead a horse to water, you expect the horse to drink. If it doesn’t, you can assume it’s because it is not thirsty because the horse knows about water and its purpose. We all do.

Advocates for sudden cardiac arrest prevention and awareness face a very different scenario.

These coaches performed CPR. They knew THAT could help save Antwon. What about that mandated AED?  Did they not know it was there? Did they not understand that he was in cardiac arrest? Did they not realize that an AED is the best (and maybe only) tool to save his life? The AED was present. The coaches were led to water, but they didn’t drink.

This tragedy shows us that even if we had a blank check, and could equip every school and field with an AED, we wouldn’t solve the problem.  This is not an anomaly either. A few years ago in Philadelphia at the Hank Gathers Rec Center, Akhir Frazier collapsed on the basketball court. An AED was in the office next to the gym, but nobody went to get it. They didn’t know he was in cardiac arrest.

This goes beyond AEDs. It is the same for youth heart screenings. We can hold heart screenings every weekend, or put EKGs and technicians in the schools, but if parents, coaches and students don’t appreciate the risks of SCA, then no one will take advantage of the screening.

The answer is awareness. At Simon’s Fund, we have worked hard to introduce and pass the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention Act. It is now law in Pennsylvania and Illinois. It has been introduced in Indiana, Ohio, Massachusetts, Michigan and Oklahoma. We have commitments from lawmakers in Delaware, Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia.

This law doesn’t place AEDs or mandate heart screenings. Instead, it makes SCA a household term. It makes parents, coaches and students to confront the reality of SCA. It makes them aware of the conditions and warning signs. In so doing, they are forced contemplate their response to a student collapsing, which ultimately leads them to one conclusion – we need a plan.

The universally-accepted plan is call 911, begin compressions and send someone for an AED. Empowered with this knowledge, the parents and coaches will find ways to procure AEDs and learn CPR because they know it is critical to the safety of their children and players.

The Lystadt Act is a perfect example. Since the passage of this act in Washington State in 2009, forty-eight states have passed laws raising awareness about concussions. Now that there is heightened awareness about the dangers of concussions, schools and sports leagues are requiring baseline concussion testing. Administrators, coaches and parents are more informed and they are making smart decisions.

Our movement needs to learn from this. First, we need to teach the horses about the importance of water and how it can make a big difference. Then, they’ll be asking for the water and racing to the watering hole.




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