Heart Association volunteer seeks support for bill

As a Middlesex County health-care professional and American Heart Association volunteer, I am writing to respectfully ask for the support of our local media and New Jersey senators to help bring New Jersey Senate Bill S-1106 to the full Senate for a vote. If passed, this legislation could, over time, save an untold number of New Jersey lives by requiring all New Jersey health clubs and fitness centers to have automated external defibrillators (AEDs) on site and staff properly trained to use the devices.

According to a study published in "Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association," health clubs and fitness centers are among the top 10 public places with the highest occurrence of sudden cardiac arrest (sudden death), which is different than a heart attack.

The American Heart Association has called sudden cardiac arrest a major, unresolved public health issue. At least 250,000 people in our country die every year from cardiac arrest. Few victims of cardiac arrest survive after 10 minutes.

The number of Americans who exercise regularly at fitness clubs has increased steadily in recent years, as has their average age. In March 2002, a joint scientific statement from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association urged fitness clubs throughout the country to install defibrillators and train their staff to use them. It’s time for all New Jersey health clubs and fitness centers to be better prepared for cardiac emergencies.

The American Heart Association is aware of at least five lives that have been saved in New Jersey during the past three years at health clubs and fitness centers equipped with an AED program. Those health clubs and fitness centers took the initiative to implement an AED program and should be applauded, but they are in the minority in the Garden State.

A companion bill, A-453, was passed by the state Assembly in May 2002. Bill S-1106 was passed by the Senate Health Committee and has awaited a full vote by the Senate for more than a year.

I urge our local senators and the primary sponsors of S-1106, Sen. Andrew Ciesla, Sen. Shirley Turner and Sen. John Adler, to place S-1106 on the agenda for a vote.

Join with the American Heart Association to strengthen New Jersey’s "chain of survival" and improve the chances of survival from sudden cardiac arrest.

Kathy Merchant, B.S., E.M.T.

task force volunteer

American Heart Association

Middlesex County Operation Heartbeat program coordinator

St. Peter’s University Hospital

New Brunswick