Local use of defibrillation a shocking success
May 21, 2012
ASPEN – Pitkin County might be a good place to have a heart attack, if such a place exists.
The county now has more than 200 automatic external defibrillation units placed where anyone, including those with little or no training in life-saving techniques, can deliver the care that keeps a victim of sudden cardiac arrest alive.
Getting the word out that the units are available and easy to use is the challenge.
Last week, Aspen Ambulance Director Jim Richardson and Operations Manager Gabe Muething brought a training version of a defibrillator and a resuscitation dummy to a meeting of county commissioners and gave them instruction on use of the device in conjunction with cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.
Out on the street, voice prompts in the defibrillation unit will instruct those who aren’t sure what to do. The device delivers a shock to the heart if one is necessary but won’t shock a patient whose heart is beating. Defibrillation, in conjunction with CPR, is critical in the minutes after someone suffers a heart attack, according to Richardson.
He attributed the last three “saves” in the county – people who collapsed from a heart attack but survived with no neurological damage – to CPR and use of defibrillation. In each case, the measures were initiated by people at the scene before emergency responders arrived, he said.
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A person who suffers a heart attack has about 10 minutes’ worth of oxygen in their bloodstream, Richardson explained. The key is getting the blood to circulate.
“Every minute that person is down, you lose a 10 percent chance of survival,” he said.
Artificial respiration – a step that used to be part of CPR training but one that many people were hesitant to administer – is no longer deemed necessary.
Instead, Richardson ran down a simple to-do list for commissioners: First, shake the victim to see if they’re conscious and able to respond, and have someone call 911. Begin CPR. He instructed one commissioner to begin delivering chest compressions while another readied the defibrillation unit. Once it’s turned on, the voice-recorded prompts offer step-by-step instructions. The shock is delivered through electrodes embedded in adhesive patches that can be attached to the patient’s chest. The push of a button is all that’s required to activate the device. Then, if the unit doesn’t detect a heartbeat, CPR is resumed until the unit directs another defibrillation.
Incidentally, one can keep the proper CPR pace if one is familiar with the beat of the songs “Stayin’ Alive” or “Another One Bites the Dust.” Either tune will work, Muething said.
Go to http://www.savealifepitkincounty.com for more on defibrillation, instruction in CPR, information on how to obtain an defibrillation unit, arranging training, testimonials from local cardiac arrest victims and more.
Each defibrillation unit costs $1,500, according to Richardson. They’ve been placed in virtually all local government buildings, including three at the airport. There’s also one in Marble, one at the Thomasville fire station, one in Redstone and others at private businesses. The Aspen Ambulance District will help businesses obtain a unit for the lowest possible price; grants have been used to help buy many of the units that are available in public places.
Ideally, the units are placed prominently on a wall, much like a fire extinguisher.
Emergency dispatchers can confirm the presence of a defibrillation unit at a particular address. Work is under way on a map that will allow them to direct a caller to the unit nearest their location.
The units see use about 20 times a year in Pitkin County, according to Richardson. The county sees more sudden cardiac arrests than that a year, though, so there is room for improvement, he said.
Nationally, the “save rate” when CPR and defibrillation is used is about 5 percent, he said. Locally, it’s about 50 percent.
“Luckily, we have very few (heart attacks) locally, and we’ve been very successful with the ones we do have,” he said.