Several years ago my husband and I were returning home from a long weekend away via a scenic country route and came upon an emergency scene. A gentleman was lying on the ground with bystanders looking on. My doctor-husband stopped the car and leapt out to see what he could do. He ascertained that the ambulance had been called and the fire brigade of the nearest township was bringing an AED (Automated External Defibrillator, known as a “defibrillator”).
The gentleman was unconscious, not breathing, without a pulse, and according to the bystanders, had been so since they came upon him nearly ten minutes prior. My husband took over the CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) effort, and the AED arrived several minutes later. What happened then was odd. The local fire brigade chap stepped off the fire truck and just stood there with the AED in his hand – for about 20 seconds! At this stage, my husband worked out what was happening: the local township had purchased a defibrillator (good on them!). They knew where it was stored and brought it quickly to the emergency scene (double merit points). But the trained helper did not know how to use it! My husband grabbed it, set it up quickly, and began deploying it according to the instructions.
This story has a sad ending. The gentleman was probably dead before any of us arrived on the scene. But even if he had been discovered in time by the locals, his chances for survival would have been seriously undermined by the fact that the “trained” first responder did not know how to use the AED.
Action for Shoctober
October is Shoctober month - the time set aside for us all to reflect on what we can individually and collectively do to reduce the more than 30,000 estimated preventable deaths each year in Australia from SCA (Sudden Cardiac Arrest). SCA is a leading cause of death in this country, killing more Australians than breast cancer, shootings, and road crashes combined. It can happen anytime to anyone, often without warning. 75% of arrests happen away from hospital, and the survival rate for these is just 6%.
The only real treatment for Sudden Cardiac Arrest is defibrillation. Defibrillation is an electric current that shocks the heart so that a normal rhythm can resume. This shock must be delivered within minutes of the arrest to successfully prevent death. Survival is largely dependent on how quickly a victim is defibrillated; early defibrillation can increase the 6% rate to well above 50%. The catch is that each minute that passes without defibrillation therapy decreases the victim’s chances of survival by 10% (meaning that after 10 minutes without action, the person who has had the SCA has virtually no chance of surviving). Obviously, waiting on the ambulance - which may have to manoeuvre through busy urban streets - can cost precious minutes.
Call for more AEDs
These facts mean that, the more defibrillators that can be installed in various public and workplaces, the better chance we all have of surviving. Between 2005 and 2008, the Federal Department of Health and Ageing sponsored the trial Public Access Defibrillation (PAD) program, during which St John Ambulance installed 147 defibrillators for nearly 100 organisations, including airports, train stations, tourist sites, shopping centres, schools, and sports stadiums. The good news was that seven lives were saved by having this crucial piece of equipment at just the right moment. But there was bad news, too. A report looking into the PAD deployment showed that the lives were saved by trained first responders rather than untrained staff or members of the public, who are often just like the (supposedly trained) fire brigade chap in the country town: terrified to use the AED lest they do it wrong, or – heaven forbid! – have a go at saving someone only to be sued later on by family members when the person dies, or perhaps is saved but with irreversible damage. The untrained individuals probably do not know about the “Good Samaritan” legislation which protects them from litigation should the rescue attempt fail.
The second lifesaving step
Everyone can help save lives which might have been lost due to SCA. The first step in saving lives at risk from SCA is making sure that there is an AED strategically located: in your workplace, in your community gathering places, in your children’s schools. That movement has started already, and is gaining strength as the Australian community collectively eyes the sad statistic of 30,000 preventable deaths from cardiac arrest. Indeed, if your workplace, school, or community venue does not have an AED, it is worth enquiring when they plan to get one.
Today’s blog is about taking the second lifesaving step. Go straight to your employer, St John Ambulance, Red Cross, or any other provider of AED training (it is often done in conjunction with CPR) and find out how to use a defibrillator. You may save a precious life. As the Talmud says, “To save one life is as if to save the world.” Who knows? The life you save by being proactive now may even be your own.