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Lawmakers want more CPR, cardiac arrest training for Michigan schools

people sitting down in a room
Cindie DeWolf, mission advancement advisor for the American Heart Association, and Alex Bowerson, a former high school athlete who survived cardiac arrest, sit in front of the House Regulatory Reform committee on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. (Courtesy photo: American Heart Association)
  • New legislation require Michigan schools to develop plans on how to respond when someone goes into cardiac arrest
  • Schools would be required to buy heart defibrillator, ensure training for athletic coaches
  • The plan is backed by the NFL and American Heart Association

LANSING — Michigan lawmakers are considering a plan that would require K-12 public schools with athletics programs to place defibrillators across their campuses and train high school coaches to use them.

It’s part of a push — backed by the National Football League and the American Heart Association — to update Michigan laws in an effort to better respond to people who go into sudden cardiac arrest.


Backers say the legislation will save people’s lives when they experience sudden cardiac arrest, where the heart can’t pump blood to the body’s organs. Without treatment, a person can die within minutes.  


While it’s not clear how much the new mandates might cost school districts, that should not be the only consideration, sponsoring Rep. John Fitzgerald, D-Wyoming, said Tuesday during committee testimony.

“What is the life of a child worth?” 

Among other things, the legislation would require public schools with athletics programs to develop a plan for how to respond when someone goes into cardiac arrest, starting with the 2025-2026 school year. 

A second bill would require all public school athletic coaches be certified to administer CPR and use an automated external defibrillator, or AED. 

Alex Bowerson, now a college freshman, told lawmakers his high school wrestling coach did not know what to do when he experienced a “tight pain in my chest, and hit the floor probably about 15 seconds later.”

But the varsity cheer coach, who was also an emergency room nurse, sprung to action and used the AED on him, Bowerson said.

“I was only in a terrible rhythm for about two minutes before that AED shocked me,” he said. “...I would not be alive today if it was not for this AED, and for someone who knew what to do.”

The Michigan High School Athletic Association already requires head coaches to take CPR training, spokesperson Geoff Kimmerly told Bridge Michigan. That often includes AED training, but it’s not required, and not all schools currently have the devices, he said. 

“The point of our requirement is to say ‘if nothing else, somebody in the gym or on the field, whatever the playing surface might be, has this,” Kimmerly said.

The bill would put those requirements into law and expand training requirements to all coaches, including assistants. 

Schools should be prepared because sudden cardiac arrest can happen to someone at any age, said Alyssa Vermeulen, assistant professor of pediatric cardiology at University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital. 

It’s a common misconception that sudden cardiac arrest is the same as a heart attack, she said, noting they are different and that heart attacks tend to happen later in life. 

Vermeulen, who is also the medical director of the Michigan chapter of Project ADAM, a group that focuses on preparing and responding to the sudden cardiac arrests, likened them to a “power outage” in the body.

“Without electricity, the body is left without blood flow and the only fix is restoring that electricity,” she said Tuesday in committee testimony. “CPR assists in manually pumping the blood to the body and an (automated external defibrillator) restores that electricity.”

Fitzgerald, the sponsoring lawmaker, acknowledged that sudden cardiac arrest is “relatively uncommon” but said it is “still a threat for young people, particularly those who play sports.” 

The cardiac arrest response plans proposed under the legislation would require schools to place AEDs throughout their campus and athletic facilities so that they could be accessible within one to three minutes of the emergency. 


The devices cost an average of $1,500, and the Legislature could help foot the bill, Fitzgerald said. There may also be an opportunity for districts to access private funds, he added.

Most public schools already have at least one AED but may need to buy more to meet the proposed requirements, according to an analysis by the non-partisan House Fiscal Agency. 

Without proper training on how to use the devices and guidance on where to place them, AEDs “become part of the scenery” in a school building, said Cindie DeWolf, mission advancement advisor for the American Heart Association, during testimony.

The legislation, she said, would “give teeth to… Michigan's existing cardiac emergency response plan law, which is ambiguous and provides little guidance for schools.”

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