Defibrillators save lives — if you know they’re there

By Dana Davis Blake | Feb 07, 2014
Dana Davis Blake

Saving a life is easier than you think thanks to technology that you probably walk past every day without even noticing it’s there. Would you recognize an automated external defibrillator (AED) if you saw one?

If you work out at a gym or fitness center, you’re more likely to have seen the heart symbol with a lightning bolt across the center. AEDs have been fixtures in gyms across the country for a while — in many states it’s the law. Legally, in North Carolina all government buildings are required to have an AED.

Regardless of the law, AEDs are showing up in more public places, like shopping malls, business buildings, airports, large sports and performing venues, schools, nursing homes, churches and restaurants.

AEDs are an important device used for a cardiac arrest, which is when the heart suddenly stops beating, and blood no longer flows to the brain, lungs and other organs (a heart attack is when blood flow to the heart is blocked). For every minute a cardiac arrest is untreated, the chances for survival decrease by 7 to 10 percent. Cardiac arrest usually causes death within minutes. There are often no warning signs, just a sudden loss of consciousness with no pulse.

Call 911 right away if someone shows signs of cardiac arrest. Let the phone operator know that you have access to an AED. Follow the instructions on the AED to begin use.

After assessing the patient’s heart rhythm, AEDs give an electric shock through the chest to the heart, returning the heart’s rhythm back to normal. Audio and/or visual prompts guide the user through the process, which usually entails placing shock pads on the patient’s chest, standing clear of the victim and pushing a button to administer the shock.

AEDs are intended to be used by non-medical first responders, like police, security guards and flight attendants. They’re simple enough that even the untrained bystander can use them. Though you don’t need training to use an AED, the Red Cross offers CPR-like training classes open to anyone.

According to the AHA, in 2013, more than 359,000 people suffered cardiac arrests outside of a hospital. Twenty-three percent of them responded to an AED shock, “making AEDs in public places highly valuable,” reported the AHA.

Sadly, the same AHA report says that there aren’t enough public AEDs or trained people. The survival rate for cardiac arrest victims treated by someone with CPR and AED training is 40 percent.

Dana Davis Blake is a nurse and Health Heart outreach coordinator at Mission Hospital.