The need for defibrillators in the community and workplace.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Cardiac disease is the leading cause of death in Australia. Almost twice as many people die from heart disease than the next leading cause of death. A recent study in New South Wales indicates you are more likely to die after a cardiac episode now than you were in 2005, this increase is mainly due to bystanders fear of injuring a person further, unfamiliarity with proper CPR procedures and a fear of being held legally liable if the person does not recover or is injured further. The statistics are sobering, within ten minutes of a serious cardiac episode a person must be receiving CPR or defibrillation in order to have any hope of recovery; however the average response time for medical personnel to arrive at the scene of a cardiac arrest is between seven and ten minutes. In rural areas the wait can be far longer.

In the event of a sudden cardiac arrest, a person is completely at the mercy of any bystanders nearby for assistance, and the vigilance and efforts of witnesses increases survival rates substantially. An individual that is treated with a defibrillator within minutes of experiencing a cardiac arrest is 75% more likely to survive than a person that is not. In areas with little CPR training and few or no defibrillators, the survival rate of a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital lingers at 10%. Over twenty thousand people die a year each year due to cardiac disease and those that do survive can experience life changing symptoms as a result of the lack of oxygen during those first crucial minutes of an episode, including brain damage. Fewer than 2% of the public are treated with a defibrillator when experiencing a cardiac arrest. A substantial amount of medical literature indicates that this device is often the difference between life and death.

Anecdotally, there are thousands of stories of families that would not be complete without the use of a defibrillator. The father who had a heart attack while bowling with friends and was saved through the quick action of his team-mates, the high-school student that collapses suddenly due to an undiagnosed heart deformity while on the basketball court, the young mother walking down a public street and saved by quick-thinking bystanders all owe their survival to the opportunity to utilise a small device that can change health outcomes in a big way. Without defibrillators available to the public, each of these stories would have a very different ending.

AED, or automated external defibrillation, is overwhelming and scary to many people in the beginning. Thoughts of violent shocks delivered to patients on popular medical television shows come to mind and individuals may fear for their own safety and those they are attempting to help, however use of an AED device is very simple. AED devices include directions and many models have automated instructions that walk an operator through the process one step at a time. Emergency operators are also trained to provide directions to those attempting to utilise an AED device and some CPR and first aid classes have already incorporated AED instruction into their curriculum; however the devices are designed specifically to be simple enough for use by a layperson with no medical experience.

An AED defibrillator delivers an electrical shock through the skin to the heart. The heartbeat is controlled through electrical pulses generated within the muscle, unfortunately there are times where this pulse becomes disorganised or fails altogether causing a cardiac episode. When the heart fails to beat correctly the brain and muscles become starved for oxygen and brain cells will begin to die within four to five minutes without oxygenated blood, the use of an AED restarts the electrical pulses within the heart or attempts to correct the disorganised rhythm, allowing the heart to beat correctly again.

Many communities have banded together to raise funds to place AED devices in public places. Sadly, this often comes at the expense of losing a member of the community to a cardiac arrest that could have been saved through the use of a defibrillator. Some communities have recruited business owners to donate portions of their sales during Heart Month (July) or in conjunction with healthy living programs in their areas. Some communities have fought to place the devices in schools in order to save young athletes that may be completely unaware of a heart problem. Bake sales, company matching programs, and even community rummage sales have been used to fund-raise for the addition of AEDs to communities. Individuals recognise thanks to outreach programs and educational efforts that the ten minutes it takes for an ambulance to travel to them, may be far too long to save their life. Defibrillators place in public places in the community is an essential way to prevent tragedy from occurring.

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