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How AEDs can save children with heart disease

Children with heart conditions are always at risk, but one boy’s story has inspired a movement to make automated external defibrillators (AEDs) available to the public — a move that could potentially save lives.

Like most Canadian kids, Chase McEachern loved hockey. The 11-year-old boy from Barrie, Ont., who learned to skate at age three, played left wing for the Vaughan Kings of the Greater Toronto Hockey League, and religiously watched NHL games, rooting for his favourite player, Sidney Crosby. He even drew a rink on his desk at home – complete with centre ice, the red line and the blue lines. But Chase was also a kid with a heart problem.

In October 2005, his heart rate soared to 160 beats per minute after a football game. Doctors at The Hospital for Sick Children (also called SickKids) in Toronto shocked Chase’s heart to correct the abnormal rhythm.

In an effort to determine why Chase was experiencing spikes in his heart rhythm, doctors hooked him up to a wearable heart monitor for multiple 24-hour periods for two months. The diagnosis was an atrial flutter – and it meant an end to his hockey-playing days.

In November, Chase watched Jiri Fischer, a defenceman with the Detroit Red Wings, collapse on the bench after going into cardiac arrest during a game. The team’s training staff resuscitated him at the scene using CPR and an automated external defibrillator (AED), a portable device that can send an electric shock to the heart. Chase wondered aloud to his parents, John and Dorothy: “What would happen if that happened to me?”

“Chase wanted everyone to know that cardiac arrest is not something that happens only to older people,” John recalls, “and how important it is to have AEDs in sports facilities.”

To get the word out, his son wrote a letter to Don Cherry, cohost of “Hockey Night in Canada,” in hopes that the hockey icon would read it on air in February for Heart Month, but he never had a chance to send it. Chase’s parents found the letter on his desk and sent it while their son was in a coma at SickKids.

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