Suddenly a coworker, family member, friend, or even a passerby in the grocery store appears in distress, collapses, and loses consciousness—they have experienced a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Without intervention, they have little to no chance of survival.
For that reason, the American Heart Association encourages all organizations to have AED programs in place to increase the odds of survival for those with heart-related emergencies. Implementing a program allows a person to be better prepared to save the life of their coworker, friend, family member, or stranger. The use of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) by trained lay responders in community-based or workplace programs has been shown to triple the survival rate after SCA.
Coworkers at the Bemis Company in Wisconsin were faced with a life-or-death situation when a 60-year-old colleague collapsed while hauling a pallet of ink. He was lying on the floor, color draining from his face, and his coworkers could find no pulse. When the operations partner of the plant witnessed the collapse, he immediately sprang into action and the team and their preparedness plan saved the man’s life.
Having a plan in place for emergency situations is important—in this instance, the operations partner who witnessed the event alerted the safety manager. One employee called 911 and contacted upper management, and the safety manager conducted an initial assessment and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Another employee rushed to grab the AED 30 yards away, and the others conducted various tasks from cutting off the man’s shirt to shutting down equipment to reduce noise and chaos.
When the AED arrived, the safety manager stopped CPR as another employee attached the unit. While monitoring the pulse as well as the AED device’s prompts, the device advised a shock and the group administered it. The victim did not immediately respond, but the AED device continued monitoring the victim’s vitals and provided the safety manager with feedback as he continued CPR. Less than one minute later, the victim took a breath.
School crisis intervention aid Carla Leonard had grown to hate one part of her morning routine: constantly bumping her head on the AED positioned right by her desk. She had become so annoyed by the device she even petitioned the principal to have it moved farther from her desk. However Carla has now had a change of heart: "Ironically, that AED saved my life."
Carla was only 43 years old when she went into sudden cardiac arrest during the morning pledge. She described the feeling as "a brain freeze to the chest". Fortunately, Carla's school was prepared and had a medical emergency response plan in place. The school nurse Alice Habina was able to quickly start performing CPR and use the AED located right by Carla's desk before the volunteer EMTs arrived.
Carla realized she wanted to pay it forward so she began to volunteer for the American Heart Association to advance legislation for school nutrition guidelines and funding for healthy heart and tobacco-control programs.
For each minute a patient is in cardiac arrest their chance of survival is reduced by 10%. The NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute states that an SCA needs to be treated with a defibrillator right away and the shock must be done within minutes of the arrest. The Australian Red Cross took this sobering statistic as a call to action that could save lives and concentrated efforts to install life-saving AED units in high-traffic areas and public places throughout the city of Dubbo to make it “heart safe”. The goal of the campaign was to have AED no more than two minutes apart in high-traffic areas of the city to reduce the number of minutes between SCA and shock and increase the number of survivors. Through efforts of the Australian Red Cross, installation of AED devices in Regional Council facilities, AEDs purchased by the community, and donations raised from the “Heart-Safe” campaign, Dubbo was declared heart-safe six months after starting its campaign for the designation. There are now somewhere around 100 AED devices throughout the city.
What You Need to Know
According to the American Heart Association, SCA was involved in 366,807 deaths in the US in 2015, alone. When cardiac arrest occurs outside of a hospital, it most often occurs in a public setting (39.5%). Anyone can experience a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA)—it can happen instantly or shortly following the appearance of symptoms.
During an SCA, there is an abrupt loss of heart function and the brain loses its blood supply quickly, causing the victim to lose consciousness and collapse. Unless a normal heart rhythm is re-established within minutes, death usually follows.
For facility and risk managers, an AED is not just a piece of equipment to maintain, it is a life-saving medical device that needs management if one intends to reduce risk and have the ability to save lives at the facility.