GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Kimmy Gillary was on the water polo team for Troy Athens High School. During a game on April 3, 2000, she suffered a cardiac arrest.
"Her whole team was there, watched her die on the pool deck," her father, Randy Gillary, told 24 Hour News 8. "Nobody could do anything."
Kimmy had an undetected heart condition known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
CPR was performed, but the school -- most schools back then -- didn't have an Automatic External Defibrillator . Without the shock from an AED, her brain died, and so did she.
Her family tries not to think too much about what might have been. "We try to look at the positive and try to focus on saving the next kid," Randy Gillary said.
Since that time, the Gillarys have been working to make sure AEDs are placed in schools across the state of Michigan through the Gillary Foundation.
Now, most schools do have AEDs , but they say that's only the first round.
In the Fennville High School gym, Wes Leonard had just hit the winning shot to lift his basketball team to an undefeated season when he collapsed.
Fennville had an AED, and his mother screamed for someone to go get it. But the AED was in a different room, and by the time it reached the 16-year-old, rescuers discovered the battery was dead.
"This is real life. This is not a practice. When somebody goes down, it's life or death at that point," Gillary said. "I would much rather have somebody who's had some practice at (using AEDs), who knows what to do, when to do it and how to do it."
Their quest now is school drills.
In 2004, the American Heart Association recommended schools have regular surprise drills a few times a year to hammer out a plan of action - and to time everything.
The heart association estimates 1 in 100,000 high school athletes die from sudden cardiac arrest each year -- an average that would mean 3 Michigan high school athletes each year.
Every minute counts when the brain doesn't get oxygen. After three minutes, brain damage begins.
The Gillarys want the state to mandate AED drills, just like tornado and fire drills. Currently, Michigan does not.
Some schools, like Immanuel Lutheran in Macomb County outside Detroit, do it on their own. This private K-8 school includes the students, no matter how young they are, in their drills. They're given the job of running to get the AED. That leaves teachers free to call 9-1-1 and start CPR.
"It is easy, it's very easy to use, but people are intimidated by grabbing it," Gillary said. "People are intimidated when the alarm goes off, people are intimidated when they can't get the latch open. There are going to be obstacles. That's what we want to get out of the way."
The Gillary Foundation recently surveyed every West Michigan school to find out if they have AEDs and if they do drills or train staff.
Of the schools that replied, most have AEDs and train at least some staff but do not do any drills.
West Michigan school response (Excel Spreadsheet)
But West Michigan's largest school district -- GRPS -- does.
In a recent drill witnessed by 24 Hour News 8, an assigned team practiced with a fake AED. One of the organizers said it helps.
"(Practicing under pressure in) a realistic situation, just like we did today, (provides confidence) so we have that hands-on application of, in a real situation, what would we all do," she told 24 Hour News 8. "I just think taking the time to do it in a real setting is ideal."
But in Michigan, school administrators say they're already doing more with less.
Battle Creek Central High School doesn't do drills, but they do have two AEDs on campus. Administrators and gym teachers all get certified and there is a certified trainer on staff.
"We don't do drills," said the school's Scott Millin. "We're stretched, we're all very busy but we feel like we still have a level of preparedness."
He said he does not feel like the students are any less safe without AED drills.
"We train every other year. We know how to use the machine. The safety of our students and our community as they enter our building is priority 1 to us," Millin said. "I don't think that we've compromised any student safety in any way, shape or form, and if I did feel that, we would take steps to address it."
Randy Gillary disagrees.
"I don't care how easy it is to use it if you've never done it before and there's somebody on the floor who's inthe process of dying. It's going to help if you know what you're doing and you practiced it."
"What's more important?" he asked. "Teaching someone their math tables or saving their life?"
Millin sees it differently.
"I would say that some schools may have different situations than we have. We've studied this, we've talked about it, we've collaborated as administrative team in the building and throughout the district to make sure that we do everything that we possibly can to be prepared. I guess I would respectfully disagree with them. I think we're in pretty decent shape."
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