May 10, 2021 at 7:14 p.m.
The Millers, who milk 70 cows near Kellogg, created a fundraiser to raise money to purchase portable automated external defibrillators to give to the school in memory of their son, Aidan, who passed away July 2019 at the age of 16 from a cardiac arrythmia. The fundraiser collected enough money to purchase six portable AEDs.
“A death like this in someone young and healthy is devastating not just to our family but to his friends, his classmates, the whole school, the community,” Karen said. “We can’t bring Aidan back, but we can bring awareness to this type of death and then do whatever we can to keep it from happening to someone else.”
One way the Millers wanted to help is to provide more portable AEDs to their school. Scott Flattum, activities director at PEM schools, said before this gift, the school had two portable AEDs but could have as many as 13 extracurricular teams outside in the fall.
Since Aidan’s death, the Millers have learned more about sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes. According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, it is the leading cause of death in young athletes, accounting for 75%. One teenage athlete dies every three days and 1 in 300 youth have an undetected heart condition that puts them at risk for sudden cardiac arrest; however, the use of an AED can triple the chance of survival from sudden cardiac arrest if used promptly along with cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
“An AED will send an electrical shock to shock you out of whatever non normal heart rhythm you’re having and restart it in a normal rhythm,” said PEM school nurse Ashley Walbruch.
While Aidan’s death spurred the Millers’ idea for more AEDs in the school, watching the 2020 state high school wrestling tournament solidified the need. As the Millers watched a different matchup online before the start of a PEM wrestler’s match, they witnessed a Becker High School athlete experience sudden cardiac arrest.
“The kid from Becker got pinned, and he looked kind of loopy,” Karen said. “He laid there for a second, then got up, shook hands with his opponent, turned to walk off the mat and faceplanted. I completely lost it because I could tell he wasn’t moving.”
The Millers saw someone gave the athlete CPR and another person rushed toward them with an AED. The wrestler was revived and immediately taken to the hospital by ambulance.
“How did this just happen in front of our eyes when this just happened to our son?” Karen said. “This is not supposed to happen that often.”
Steve Hinrichs, PEM agriculture teacher, FFA instructor and wrestling coach, was in attendance that day of the state wrestling tournament to prepare his PEM heavy weight. He also watched the events unfold and helped hold a mat to block the wrestler experiencing sudden cardiac arrest from view while others revived him. Looking back, Hinrichs realizes the need for more AEDs.
“This kid was a big strapping kid recruited by the (University of Minnesota) Gophers,” Hinrichs said. “You start to wonder who else is out there and what other ways can we prevent this from happening. He was lucky that day.”
Karen said in many cases like this, people may not think a heart condition might be the problem.
“They bumped heads during the match so you think maybe he was loopy from that or got a concussion but that’s another thing that is so important in sudden cardiac arrest cases,” Karen said. “If it is sudden cardiac arrest, every second counts. Think heart first.”
Bill Ihrke, PEM superintendent, has been trained to use an AED as have all other school employees. He was a football coach when AEDs first made their appearance in the school.
“The nice thing about them is you won’t harm anyone by using one,” Ihrke said. “If it detects a rhythm that is not shockable, it won’t shock and won’t let you shock. It basically tells you yes or no.”
While having an AED could be used for an event with a student athlete, it could also be used for fans, coaches, bus drivers or anyone else in attendance.
“The chances of something happening to someone elderly is probably much higher,” Dan said. “Hopefully the AEDs will never be used, but they’re there if needed.”
When COVID-19 hit, the Millers’ action subsided as many events were canceled. When the school year started in the fall, a chain reaction of events spurred the idea once more.
“All staff is supposed to get AED trained at least every two years, preferably every year,” Walbruch said. “We couldn’t be in person for the training in August so I threw together an email and sent it out.”
After receiving the email, Flattum told Walbruch about the need for more portable AEDs. When Walbruch asked what she could do, Flattum directed her to the Millers.
“This is my first year as school nurse, and we’re new to the community so I knew of Aidan’s death but didn’t know the Millers,” Walbruch said. “So I called Karen.”
Karen said Walbruch called at just the right time.
“There are days when I get really, really sad, and I just think people are getting sick of me preaching all this stuff,” Karen said. “Then my phone rings, and I get this angel calling me saying, ‘What can we do?’ And, then it gets me excited about doing something again.”
Earlier this year, the Millers decided to give money toward the purchase of an AED and thought about asking others if they would want to give in memory of Aidan through a fundraiser on Facebook. They set a goal of $1,500 to buy one AED. Within 12 hours, the goal had been surpassed. The Millers decided to increase the goal until they had raised $6,000 in three days.
“I’m not one to like to ask for money, but I knew it wasn’t for us,” Dan said. “After the response we had, I felt the community felt it was a good thing too.”
“I want to say I wasn’t surprised because we live in such an awesome community but yet I was surprised that we raised that much money in that short of a time,” she said. “This community never ceases to amaze me.”
Even following the end of the fundraiser, money came in, including a donation from the school’s FFA chapter, where Aidan had served as an officer.
“It just felt right to donate to that cause,” Hinrichs said on behalf of the chapter.
The six portable AEDs purchased from the fundraiser arrived just in time for the start of the spring sports season.
“Aidan was close to a lot of the guys on the baseball team,” said Flattum who is also a baseball coach. “Anyone who carries the AED carries it with a source of pride. Our softball team was also pretty overwhelmed when they got theirs so it’s pretty cool to see.”
The PEM school staff is appreciative of the donation.
“To get a donation to buy one or two would have been unreal so I don’t even have words to describe to have several of them,” Ihrke said. “I think it will be a great thing. And if we have to use it even just once, it will be worth it.”
The Millers agreed.
“We can’t stop it from happening to somebody else, but hopefully we can save somebody else,” Dan said.
It is their way of helping their community and honoring Aidan at the same time.
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