Severe brain damage or death is minutes away when a person collapses from sudden cardiac arrest, and beyond the walls of a hospital only one thing — a $2,000 device called an automated external defibrillator — can forestall it.

Malin Von Knorring, a 16-year-old junior at Maria Carrillo High School, launched a campaign in January to install four of the lifesaving instruments, known as AEDs, at her Rincon Valley school.

Her effort, which won praise from school officials and the manager of a local ambulance service, is nearing fruition as the defibrillators should be in place early next year.

"Because we don't have one, somebody could die," said Von Knorring, a Key Club member with an A-plus average who also runs track, plays club soccer and is copy editor of the school newspaper, the Puma Prensa.

Cardiac arrest kills 1,000 people a day in the United States, most of them people with heart disease, but it also strikes young, outwardly healthy individuals — and the vast majority die before they reach a hospital.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation can keep blood flowing to the brain and vital organs, but an electrical shock is needed to restore normal heart function to a victim of cardiac arrest.

A 14-year-old Piner High student collapsed during a gym class in 2005 and died two weeks later when he was taken off life support.

Von Knorring learned about cardiac arrest and automated defibrillators from her mother, Michelle, a nurse, and heard about the Piner fatality from Craig Wycoff, an assistant principal at Maria Carrillo.

She raised $650 by selling first-aid kits, applied for a grant and then turned to Dean Anderson, general manager of AMR/Sonoma Life Support, for help acquiring the defibrillators and training the Maria Carillo staff to use them.

"It really is kind of foolproof," said Von Knorring, who also took CPR/AED training.

Defibrillators are standard equipment on ambulances and emergency vehicles and are easily used by lay people, Anderson said. His firm is donating one of the defibrillators to Maria Carrillo, and sponsors are needed for two more devices.

The defibrillators have a screen that illustrates the procedure, along with verbal prompts to the user, he said. AEDs assess the stricken heart's electrical activity and determine if a shock is warranted.

If not, the device won't administer one. "That's the beauty of it," Anderson said.

The American Heart Association recommends AEDs in places where large crowds congregate, such as airports, stadiums and high-rise offices, and Anderson said they are "becoming popular" at high schools.

He gave Von Knorring an "A," saying it was "an incredible thing for her to take on a project like this."

(You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or