All South Carolina state parks now have an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) thanks to an extended campaign by the SC State Park Service and significant grants from the South Carolina Office of Rural Health and the American College of Cardiologists. AEDs are lightweight, portable devices that can deliver electric shocks through the chest to the heart. Such shocks can often help a heart find its normal rhythm following a sudden loss of function.
Because state parks are often in remote, rural areas and attendees are often engaged in strenuous activities like hiking or biking that could lead to cardiac events, having an AED on hand could be the difference between life and death for victims of cardiac arrest. In South Carolina, these parks see upwards of 8 million visitors annually.
The campaign actually began after a visitor at H. Cooper Black Jr. Memorial Field Trial and Recreation Area went into cardiac arrest early in 2015. The park is several miles from Cheraw, where the closest hospital was located, and EMS couldn’t get to the victim in time. The incident spurred the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism to make some big changes, including an expensive campaign to get AED stations installed in every park. At the time, nearly four out of five parks didn’t have one.
“Part of our state park ranger training is on automated external defibrillators. We already had the training, what we didn't have was the equipment in the park,” says Dawn Dawson-House, Director of Corporate Communications at the Department. “We recognized that we probably didn’t have the money to put this equipment in the park, so our state park director challenged staff to see how they could raise the money or find a donation. Or find the equipment from the people who advocate for state parks anyway—people who support state parks and people who visit state parks.”
The team tasked with the campaign quickly set out to find matching donors for each park, including corporate donors and foundations like the American College of Cardiologists, to fund the ambitious project. Dawson-House says they pushed the project any way they could. Some Eagle Scout candidates fundraised for the Lake Hartwell and Colleton parks, for instance, and the Office of Rural Health eventually provided seven AEDs as well.
“In the beginning once we started getting AEDs in the park, we started posting the donations on Facebook,” she recalls. “When we started doing that, people started contacting the State Park Service to learn how they could be a part of it. That's probably how we got some of these private donations and some Eagle Scout projects.
“A lot of these came from hospitals themselves and the medical community. McLeod, Grand Strand, Self, some EMS agencies—a lot of groups jumped in.”
Today, the Department stands confident that they are more prepared than ever to serve their guests.
“When a visitor does have an issue, the first responder is [always] the state park ranger,” Dawson-House concludes. “At the very least, we can stabilize people until medical personnel can arrive. And at the very most, it actually saves lives.”