Highmark, AHN, Pirates team up to provide AED machines to local youth organizations

June 18th, 2024

The ABC Fields complex in Lower Burrell, Pa., was bustling with activity on Saturday as the Burrell Baseball Association’s 11 & Under Tournament was taking place in a sun-splashed environment. Youngsters in colorful uniforms were playing the game they love, the unmistakable smell of burgers being grilled outside the nearby concession stand was in the air, and parents and grandparents were busy offering encouragements to the kids participating in the games.

Amid all of that, and just before a 1 o’clock contest between Burrell and Riverside, officials from Highmark and Allegheny Health Network (AHN) presented a new automated external defibrillator (AED) to the Burrell Baseball Association to replace an old one that had expired.

An AED is a portable device that can be used to treat a person who has gone into cardiac arrest. These days, AEDs are available in most public places -- government buildings, schools, airports, shopping malls and other community spaces -- to help save lives.

The Burrell Baseball Association is one of 10 organizations in the Pittsburgh region that Highmark is donating an AED machine to this year. The others are Lincoln County Little League, Rochester Area Baseball/Softball Association, Riverside Girls Athletic Association, Homer City, Pittsburgh Tigers, Charleroi Youth Baseball Association, Mapletown High School Athletics, Fairchance Youth Little League and Berlin Brothersvalley School District.

“It’s exciting to be here with the kids to watch them be active and enjoy the game of baseball,” Neil Parham, director of community affairs for Highmark Health, said. “Hopefully, there won’t be a need to use this AED, but it’s here just in case a life-saving situation arises. Our Highmark Bright Blue Futures program is designed to ensure healthier, brighter, stronger futures for all, and providing this AED supports the teams’ safety both on and off the field.”

AHN cardiologist Venkatraman Srinivasan, MD, attended Saturday’s event and pointed out more than 350,000 people around the country experience a cardiac arrest episode each year.

“That’s a big number,” he said. “If you can start CPR and AED within three minutes, almost 50% of those people will make it. If you wait for the paramedics to arrive, and don’t use this device, that drops to about 27%. Then the longer it is, the more damage there is to the brain and other organs. That’s how crucial those first three minutes are.”

Dr. Srinivasan’s colleague, John Balacko, MD, also an AHN cardiologist, said it’s uncommon for a young ballplayer to be in need of an AED, but that being hit with a baseball could send a kid into an arrhythmia. However, the AED at a facility such as ABC Fields would more likely be needed to help save the life of a coach, parent or grandparent.

“Highmark’s commitment to providing this kind of help around the region is great for public health,” Dr. Balacko said. “Any chance you have to save or stabilize a life, and then get that person to a hospital is vitally important.”

Training on the proper use of an AED is recommended. However, someone who hasn’t received training can also use the device to reset the heartbeat of an individual who has sustained cardiac arrest.

“An AED is not difficult [to use] at all, because it tells you exactly what to do,” said Amber Helphenstine, senior athletic trainer with AHN Sports Medicine. “When you turn it on, it will prompt you every step of the way. There’s a picture on it that tells you exactly where the pads need to go. You just follow the pictures and follow the words. But if you feel you need help, you can call EMS and they can walk you through it over the phone.”

Brian Jarrett, the treasurer of the Burrell Baseball Association, mentioned that members of the organization’s board of directors have received training on an AED machine, as have several parents and volunteers.

“Hopefully, a life-threatening situation never happens here, but if it does, there will be a lot of us around that know how to use an AED,” he said. “Our older unit was a couple years old, and we were looking to partner with somebody to get a new one. We’re grateful that we got Highmark, AHN and the Pirates to provide a Little League like ours with something that could be a life-saving thing.”

“This is a big deal. I would call it the gift of life,” Srinivasan added. “Every time you give out a defibrillator, you’re giving the gift of life.”