You’re spending the day at the mall with some friends--shopping and having a great time--when you suddenly hear someone cry out for help. What do you do?
You look and see a crowd of people screaming, staring at something. You rush over and notice a man lying on the ground who appears not to be breathing, and his wife says that he just collapsed as they were walking along. After checking for a pulse and signs of breathing (and finding neither, you start Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) immediately and direct someone to call 911, while someone else is instructed to go and get an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED).
CPR should be continued until the AED arrives and is attached to the victim. CPR and use of an AED are key ingredients for any chance to save this man’s life.
When someone collapses from a cardiac event, their chances of survival drop by 10 percent for each minute that passes without immediate interventions. Many times, CPR alone will not restart a heart which has stopped because of what is often referred to as “sudden cardiac arrest”.
This often happens because the electrical activity of the heart is not working correctly. CPR keeps the blood circulating until an AED can be placed on the patient and a shock delivered, if needed, which gives the victim the best chance of surviving a cardiac event.
What is an AED?
An AED is a portable device that can help diagnose life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias and, in certain cases, provide an electrical shock to the heart in order to reestablish a regular heart rhythm.
These machines are simply designed and easy to use during a high stress situation so the layperson doesn’t need to be afraid of the machine when someone has collapsed and their life is at risk. Use of an AED is now taught in many first aid, first responder, and basic CPR classes.
Many public places and companies with a large number of employees or patrons are starting to place AED’s in their buildings. Sporting arenas, malls, movie theaters, government buildings, airports, bus stations, and on planes, and trains are just a few of the locations where you might find an AED. Many public safety officers are also starting to carry them in their vehicles because often times they’re the first emergency responders to arrive at a scene.
How does an AED work?
An AED analyzes the heart rhythm of the person it’s attached to. There are three main life-threatening arrhythmias that cause someone’s heart to stop, and lead to irreversible brain damage or death. These rhythms include asystole (more commonly referred to as flat line, no cardiac activity), ventricular fibrillation (VF or V-Fib) where the heart electrical activity is unorganized and the ventricles quiver rather than contract normally, and ventricular tachycardia (VT or V-Tach) where the bottom chambers of the heart beat too fast and can’t pump blood effectively throughout the body.
An AED will not shock asystole because there is no electrical activity to shock. In V-Fib and V-Tach, the AED will provide a shock, which is designed to try and reset the normal electrical activity of the heart.
How to use an AED
When you turn on or open the AED, it will instruct the user to attach the defibrillator pads to the patient’s skin. You should remove all clothing on the upper part of the patients’ torso. Bras and piercings on the upper body must also be removed before attaching the pads to avoid arcing and burns to the body.
Some AED units will automatically start to analyze the heart as soon as they are attached, others will need you to push the analyze button to start the process. When analyzing, stop CPR—no one should touch the patient. After a few seconds, the AED will tell you whether or not a shock is advised. If a shock is advised, make sure no one is touching the patient when the AED delivers the shock. If the AED advises no shock, continue CPR for another two minutes and then reanalyze (leave the AED pads on during this process). This cycle should be continued until emergency responders arrive or the patient regains consciousness.
Can an AED be used on a child?
The use of an AED was previously recommended only for adults over 8 years of age. Some manufacturers have modified their AED equipment to include adult pads and cables, as well as pediatric cables and pads; typically these models will automatically reduce the energy so the AED can be used on children between the ages of 1 and 8.
However, if an AED with pediatric capability and cables is not available and you’re confronted with a child between the ages of 1 and 8 who is confirmed to be in cardiac arrest, you should use the adult AED and pads. Just make sure the pads do not touch each other when placed on the child. If necessary, you can place one pad on the child’s chest and one on their back. If at all possible, use an AED with the pediatric capabilities, but in an emergency, it is acceptable to use an adult AED.
What if something goes wrong? Am I liable?
AED units are simple enough to use that many states now have what are called “Good Samaritan Laws”. This means that anyone using an AED cannot be sued or held civilly responsible for harm or death to someone when that harm or death was not intentional and the responder was acting within the limits of their training and in good faith.
To find out about Good Samaritan Laws in your state for CPR and the use of AEDs, check out this website: http://www.cprinstructor.com/legal.htm
CPR and use of an AED are proven to save lives
Sudden cardiac arrest is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Nearly 350,000 people will suffer a sudden cardiac arrest this year. Quick use of an AED is the only effective treatment for restoring regular heart rhythm during cardiac arrest, and is best when used in conjunction with effective CPR.
In the U.S., the average response time of emergency personnel is 8 - 12 minutes. As mentioned above, a person’s chance of survival goes down by 10 percent with each minute that passes. This is why immediate CPR and defibrillating as soon as possible gives victims the best chance of survival. The American Red Cross estimates that as many as 50,000 people can be saved each year by the use of an AED.
Every adult, teen, and even child need to learn first aid, CPR, the use of an AED, and how and when to call 911. By taking some time to learn these skills, you just might be the one who can provide life-saving help to someone in the future.