By Katina Caraganis
AYER -- When Allie Cebellero, Gracie Soultanian and Jackie Stiles heard about a boy in Sutton dying as a result of something that could have been avoided, they knew they wanted to do something to help.
The trio came together to work on a Youth Venture project after school. Youth Venture helps kids and young adults who have big ideas but don't know how to implement them gain access to the necessary resources.
Kids involved in Youth Venture identify a problem they would like to solve, and then think of creative ways they can solve it. They're also given seed money to start their projects.
After hearing a story about a child their own age dying from cardiac arrest, they decided they wanted to raise money to purchase five automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, for public parks and beaches in Ayer and Shirley.
On Friday, they donated the first one to the Ayer Recreation Department to use at Sandy Pond Beach.
The three girls, all students at Ayer-Shirley Middle School in Shirley, said their project stemmed from hearing a similar story about a young boy in Sutton who went into cardiac arrest but had no access to an AED. He passed away at the hospital.
A portable AED costs about $1,500, according to Gracie. But with the help of Bob Schriever of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association, they've been able to secure their units for a lesser amount.
"We never want to see someone else have to go through what that boy did, and what Bob did. This is the least we can do," she said. The girls are fundraising through the website giveforward.com and while those fundraising efforts have a deadline, they have no plans to stop until all five units are bought.
The girls -- Allie, 11, is from Shirley, and Jackie, 12, is from Ayer, plus Gracie, 12, from Shirley -- said they plan to put a defibrillator at the Benjamin Hill Pool in Shirley and in other public parks, athletic fields and schools in both towns. They'd like to see a law that makes it mandatory for all school staff, coaches and students to have CPR training.
Schriever, of North Andover, is a big supporter of AEDS, because one helped save his own life.
In September 2002, he was refereeing a football game between Wellesley High School and Newton North High School in Newton.
Newton North's athletic trainer was late getting to the game because he forgot the AED in his office and went back to get it.
Little did he know he would have to use it on Schriever that afternoon.
"I get a little emotional doing things like this. I went through a lot that day in 2002, and without an AED on site with someone who was trained to use it, I wouldn't be here today," he said.
At the time, he said, Newton was one of only two communities in eastern Massachusetts that had AEDs on hand.
He said he had his heart attack the night before, and knew something was off, but didn't seek out treatment -- a decision, he said, he would make differently now.
"I'm lucky to be here today. Somebody was looking over me that day because I was at that game that day," he said. "I don't remember much from that day. I remember following the quarterback for about two steps and then just falling to the ground. The rest is just a blur to me."
As a result of his experience, he co-founded the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association, based in Washington, D.C.
He said he can't stress enough the importance of proper training on AEDs and CPR.
"CPR prolongs life, it doesn't save lives. People need to know how to use AEDs. I can't tell you how important it is for people to know what to do to help in a situation like mine," he said.
He said it's also important for coaching staff to be certified in heart conditions going forward.
Follow Katina Caraganis on Twitter @kcaraganis.