You’ve probably never heard of them, but they may save your life.
Small enough to carry in one hand, automated external defibrillators carry enough power to shock a pulseless cardiac-arrest victim back to life.
Nobody knows this better than the UW-Madison Police Department.
UW police installed AEDs in their squad cars last November. On Nov. 29, two UW police officers had the opportunity to use one to save a 40-year-old man’s life. UW police officers John Lind and Steward Ballweg were the first responders to a cardiac arrest on N. Mills Street. They used an AED to deliver a shock to the victim, effectively restarting his heart before a Madison Fire Department ambulance arrived and took over patient care.
UW police installed AEDs in their squad cars because of the police force’s quick response time.
“Although the city’s ambulances have excellent response time in the campus area, UW police are often even quicker to arrive at emergencies,” UW security officer William Vanderbloemen said. “The AED units should prove to be of great value to the university community.”
The Madison Police Department also recently implemented AED training for their officers, and equipped several more squad cars. In an effort to provide the quickest defibrillator response time, Madison police officers with AEDs in their cars are allowed to respond outside the city when a “pulseless non-breather” call is received.
“The people who need [defibrillation] aren’t concerned with boundaries,” Madison police public information officer Larry Kamholz said. “Our goal is to have AEDs in all squad cars, which would be a huge asset to the entire area.”
Although AEDs were invented in the early 1980s, widespread public usage has only recently begun.
AEDs can be found in airports, schools, sporting arenas, and many police cars. According to the American Heart Association, in areas where defibrillators are readily available, the survival rate from sudden cardiac arrest is considerably higher than in areas without AEDs. In areas where defibrillation is available within five to seven minutes, the survival rate is as high as 49 percent, the AHA said. Conversely, in areas where EMS and defibrillation are delayed because of heavy traffic and other factors, as little as one percent of cardiac-arrest victims may survive.
In August 1999, AEDs became incorporated in the Good Samaritan laws, when former Gov. Thompson agreed to allow trained laypeople to use defibrillators with limited protection from liability.
Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports have also seen similar success.
AEDs in the terminals are wall-mounted, with only short distances between each one throughout each airport. In the first 10 months of the program’s implementation, 14 people suffered cardiac arrest in the airports. Nine of these 14 were successfully revived.
The AED machine itself is a small portable device that costs about $3,000. Users simply attach two clearly marked pads to the machine and the victim and push the “on” button. The machine then analyzes the heart rhythm and recommends either to shock or to continue CPR. If shock is advised, the user must push a button and the machine takes over.
The heart is a muscle that has its own electrical system. When a person suffers cardiac arrest, the heart fails to pump enough blood to keep the rest of the body’s cells working effectively, and often goes into ventricular fibrillation, a chaotic electrical rhythm.
If used soon enough after the initial arrest, AEDs can deliver a shock that corrects the rhythm. If defibrillation is delayed, the heart goes into asystole, more commonly known as “flat line.”
Once a patient goes into asystole, death is almost certain.
The American Heart Association devised a chain of survival, which outlines the ideal course of events after a cardiac arrest. The four main links are early recognition of warning signs, immediate activation of EMS, immediate CPR, early defibrillation and early advanced care. If any part of this chain is broken, survival is unlikely.
Every minute that defibrillation is delayed after sudden cardiac arrest decreases a person’s chance of survival by 10 percent, according to the American Red Cross. Because it often takes a few minutes for medical help to arrive, early defibrillation is vital in the chain of survival.
If requested, the Red Cross of Wisconsin offers training in the use of AEDs as part of CPR for the workplace. CPR for the professional rescuer courses for lifeguards, police officers, and others involved with public safety all include AED training.