15-year-old who suffered cardiac arrest twice raises money for more AEDs in school

Published: Jan. 6, 2023 at 5:56 PM CST
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RAPIDES PARISH, La. (KALB) - In the wake of Monday night’s scary scene when Buffalo Bills’ Defensive Back Damar Hamlin collapsed on the football field, there has been a growing sense of urgency to provide more life-saving resources to protect those suffering from cardiac arrest.

That frightening moment in the NFL game hit close to home for Rapides Parish native Clifton Fairbanks and his family.

“You never think of when it’s not going to be under your power and when you’re going to lose control of your child,” said Fairbanks.

In October of 2016, Fairbanks’ healthy nine-year-old daughter Anniston was in school when her heart suddenly stopped, a moment that almost ended her life.

“CPR was done by someone close to the family at the time and that is probably what saved her life,” said Fairbanks. “The first time she died, CPR saved her life.”

As Anniston’s dad said that was just her first time suffering cardiac arrest. The young girl who never had underlying health concerns or any symptoms would need another miracle just a few years later. After having a defibrillator and a pacemaker put in, her heart would once again stop, this time at an Alexandria Senior High football game just last year. This time, it was the pacemaker that kept the 15-year-old alive.

“The stress and the worry of putting that on a 15-year-old child; I’m a strong man, I’m a strong parent and I’m a strong man, but that girl is by far stronger than I’ll ever be,” said Fairbanks. “At the end of the day, when it’s your time, it’s your time. It’s going to happen, but she’s lived through it twice.”

Fairbanks said there is an unknown every day on if his daughter will be okay every time he sends her off to school. Anniston and her family have met with a cardiac surgeon who told them that they cannot stop this from happening or predict if she would ever suffer cardiac arrest again.

However, if these life-changing events have taught anything to the softball player at ASH, it’s to live each day like it’s her last. Anniston does that by sharing her story and working to save the lives of others.

According to Louisiana law, automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, are required at every high school and college that offers athletics, but Anniston and her family said that is not enough to protect every student. Remember, Anniston suffered her first cardiac arrest at just nine years old.

The teen started a GoFundMe called ‘Saving Our Hearts’ with the goal of raising money to be able to place at least one AED in every school, as the current law does not specifically cover elementary or middle schools. The fundraiser is also intended to provide more than one AED in larger schools because during cardiac arrest, every second counts. Fairbanks is also wanting more school personnel to be certified in CPR.

To go to the GoFundMe and support, click here.

“I would be really discouraged if I knew my child laid waiting on an ambulance service when two hallways away, there was an AED,” said Fairbanks.

KALB reached out to the Rapides Parish School Board, who reported that every school and district building has at least one AED with trained staff members. Some schools have more than one AED on site.

The average AED costs nearly $1,500. All of the proceeds from the family’s GoFundMe will go directly into buying a new life-saving device.

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