Defibrillator Training Launched
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The American Red Cross launches an ambitious program this week to train thousands of everyday Americans to jump-start the hearts of cardiac arrest victims, putting the power of lifesaving defibrillators in your co-worker’s hands.
Every year, 350,000 Americans collapse and die of cardiac arrest _ their hearts just suddenly stop beating. Every minute spent waiting for paramedics to arrive lowers the chance of survival by 10 percent.
CPR buys patients crucial time, but it will not restart a heart. Now companies, shopping malls, even amusement parks are buying portable defibrillators, small versions of the electric shock paddles made famous on TV, that can jolt hearts into beating again.
Experts say portable defibrillators could save 100,000 lives a year, if used widely enough. They don’t require medical expertise. Anyone with simple training can grab one and restart a person’s heart, said Red Cross President Steve Bullock.
And they can’t hurt: The machine won’t shock if it detects a heartbeat.
``Our goal is to have America trained,″ said Bullock, who will announce Wednesday a pilot training program in 17 cities. ``This is the way we’re going to save more lives.″
Between March and July, the 4 1/2-hour courses will be phased into the Red Cross’ standard CPR training for U.S. businesses in those cities, teaching company employees how to defibrillate a collapsed co-worker or customer.
Workplace training can protect the most people, because 130 million Americans work each week and many spend the majority of their waking hours on the job, Bullock said. One study suggests cardiac arrest is most common Monday mornings and Friday afternoons.
The 17-city pilot project will be expanded to companies nationwide in July.
Eventually, Bullock hopes to offer broader defibrillation training, in places like neighborhood community centers.
``It wasn’t hard at all,″ said Ron Trainor, safety director of Brechteen Co., the first company trained.
Railroad tracks surround the Chesterfield, Mich., meat-casing factory, meaning trains could block a much-needed ambulance, he said. Now if a worker collapses, 26 of the 150 employees, enough for each shift, could use a defibrillator kept handy on the factory floor instead of awaiting paramedics.
Cardiac arrest is not a heart attack, it’s worse: Without warning, the electrical signals that pump the heart go haywire and heartbeat stops. Victims pass out almost immediately. One in 20 survives.
CPR gets oxygen to the victim’s brain while help is summoned, but only a jolt of electricity can restart the heart. Defibrillation within four minutes is most successful; after 10 minutes, it usually fails. Yet in many places _ traffic-clogged cities, high-rises with slow elevators, remote rural areas _ paramedics can’t arrive in time.
The first of several versions of portable defibrillators began selling only in late 1996, and not all paramedics carry them. Experts have focused on getting them to more paramedics and police, who often beat ambulances to an emergency. Some large corporations have trained security guards to use the $3,000 devices, and airlines, too, are buying them.
But they’re not yet a common part of first aid. The American Heart Association began offering community defibrillation courses in September, but the Red Cross program aims to give defibrillators a higher profile.
The Red Cross trains with Heartstream Inc.’s defibrillator: A computerized voice tells you to place two adhesive pads on the patient’s chest. The machine measures EKG signals through the pads. If it diagnoses cardiac arrest, it charges up and tells you to push the ``shock″ button. A mild jolt travels through the pads, which then measure if the shock worked or if another is needed.
People do need training, stressed the heart association’s Patricia Bowser. They’re taught to call 911 and start CPR while someone retrieves the defibrillator, and they get important advice like never to defibrillate someone lying in water.
But overall, ``it’s very, very easy,″ said Bowser, who expects defibrillator use to grow once more states pass laws giving liability protection to people who try to save a bystander. Only 21 states have such laws now, but ``it’s changing like crazy. The defibrillator issue is such a hot topic.″