January 11, 2023

Your Church Needs an AED

Monday Night Football doesn’t often trigger an agenda item for vestries. But the match-up on January 2 between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills should. Most of you probably know the details by now: a few minutes into the much-anticipated game, Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field, apparently suffering from a cardiac arrest. Although doctors are still determining what caused the often-fatal event, what is clear is that his life was saved by fast-acting medical personnel who delivered CPR and administered electric shocks from a defibrillator.

And here’s the agenda item for vestries across the church: schedule training for CPR AND buy a defibrillator. You may be thinking that this was a unique situation, and there’s no need to invest the money or time for such life-saving measures in the local congregation. You’re wrong.

Six years ago, just 3.2 miles from the stadium where Hamlin nearly died, our church pianist almost died too. I wrote about the experience shortly after it occurred. The abbreviated version is that our pianist was playing “Away in a Manger” as the altar party cleared the table from eucharist. It was a pre-pandemic Christmas Eve, with folks squeezed into every available seat. The children’s choir led this service, and they wiggled in their seats, dressed in their seasonal finery.

The first sign that anything was amiss was a wrong note. Then another. Then the pianist slipped off the bench and fell to the floor. Doctors and nurses rushed from the pews and quickly determined he had no respiration and no pulse. In the narthex just a few feet away was the congregation’s AED—Automated External Defibrillator. As the congregation sat in silence, the pads of the AED machine were placed on his chest and shocked him back to life. The next day, he had triple bypass surgery. Two weeks later, he was home, rejoicing with his family.

On Christmas Eve, we celebrated the miracle of Christ’s birth, but I said when I originally wrote about the incident and still hold fast to this belief today that the resuscitation, while a thing of joy and thanksgiving, wasn’t a miracle. It was because the congregation was ready.

We had a defibrillator that was charged and ready for use. While we are blessed to often have medical personnel in the audience, defibrillators these days are designed for anyone to use. The machines analyze the patient and talk users through each step. CPR is important—it keeps oxygen flowing. But the AED restarted the heart—and saved his life.

Much good has come out of what could have been a tragedy at the Bengals-Bills game. Millions of people watched as an entire stadium turned to prayer. They saw burly football players weep, leaning on one another and God for solace and strength. Diehard fans put aside their football allegiances and united behind the healing and recovery of this young man, not only showing up for vigils at the hospital but also donating millions of dollars to Hamlin’s fledgling foundation to help children.

I’m hoping another good thing will come out of this event: that churches across the country will purchase AED machines and hold CPR trainings. We have much to offer in sharing the life-giving love of Christ. Let’s make sure we’re also prepared with these important life-saving tools.