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Project puts defibrillators in schools

Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center is delivering defibrillators to area high schools after a spike in the incidence of cardiac arrest among young people and adults.

Installing the devices was a routine task for maintenance workers at most schools, but at Northwest Christian High School the work was a difficult reminder.

Despite the heroic effort of coaches and others, using a defibrillator wasn’t enough to save the life of student Josh Wright three months ago. And yet Josh’s dad, Randy Wright, the maintenance chief at the small school, bolted the new defibrillator to the school’s wall on Wednesday. He says he still believes the devices are important and might help save someone else’s child.

What could have been a gut-wrenching reminder of Josh’s death turned into a day where the school community again could remember Josh and embrace his family.

“Words can’t describe what this school has done for our family,” said Randy Wright, wearing a slender yellow ribbon reading “In Memory of Joshua Wright.” The ribbons were made by friends, and the students at Northwest Christian High School have worn them to honor his son.

It was last August that the school held a kind of “Midnight Madness” event for the cross country team. There were games and food and speeches in the evening, and at midnight on Aug. 23 the boys team turned on their headlamps to run some warm-up laps around the soccer field.

The night air was cool and Josh, a 16-year-old incoming junior, had hopes for his first year on the team. He was in good shape and passed a physical just two weeks earlier.

During the first lap, coaches Terry Meyer and Stephan Fritsch stood in the middle of the grassy field, talking in the dark, when one boy stumbled. At first they suspected horseplay. At worst they feared a twisted ankle.

But the runner didn’t get up. Didn’t respond to yells. The coaches became concerned and hustled over. They found Josh face down in the grass, arms crumpled at his sides as if he hadn’t even attempted to break his fall.

“We rolled him over and Terry yelled ‘Josh! Josh! Josh, can you hear me?’ ” recalled Fritsch. “He felt for a pulse. There wasn’t one. So I bent down and put my ear to his nose and watched his chest.”


Coach Meyer began CPR and Fritsch sprinted to the school while dialing 911 from his cell phone.

He grabbed the school’s mobile defibrillator from the activities room and raced back to the field. The coaches, trained to use the device, set the pads on Josh and delivered a jolt. Then they continued CPR.

It was minutes of terror for the coaches and team. As Josh’s father came over, the coaches asked him to guide the incoming ambulance to Josh. The medics whisked him to Providence Holy Family Hospital.

After 30 minutes their efforts failed. A medical examiner’s report revealed that Josh had an enlarged heart that led to an arrhythmia.

Josh was a middle child, one of five born to Randy and Lisa Wright.

“He was just a very bright and kind young man,” said school headmaster Jack Hancock, “and a testimony to our faith.”

Fritsch said Josh was a fun-loving student with an independent streak that rewarded him with self-confidence.

His death caused tremendous grief to everyone associated with the school. But it strengthened bonds, too.

Josh’s death also has brought attention to a troublingly high incidence of sudden cardiac arrest at regional schools, said Ryan Schaefer, who coordinates Sacred Heart’s program.

Using a defibrillator can greatly increase the chance of survival when someone suffers sudden cardiac arrest. “That’s why we want to put these in schools,” Shaefer said.

Last January, a young woman’s heart stopped while playing intramural basketball at Gonzaga. She was saved with a defibrillator and today is back in college classes.

In early October the athletic director at Wilbur High School collapsed after announcing the lineups for a volleyball game. A nurse at the game used a defibrillator kept at the school to save his life.

Still, most cardiac episodes result in death, Shaefer said.

It is recommended that one school employee per 100 students be trained to use the defibrillators. Sacred Heart is underwriting the cost of the devices and will perform periodic checks to ensure they are charged and working properly.

Northwest Christian administrators say they hope they won’t have to use the second defibrillator installed at the school Wednesday. Instead, they say, it will serve as a reminder of the promise each student holds and the importance of recognizing it each day.

“God has used this to help people rethink their priorities,” Hancock said. “Life is so much more valuable than the trivial things that we get caught up in.”