Life-saving defibrillators dot campus map

The defibrillators provide spoken directions and illustrated guides.

by Yelena Kibasova

During their time on campus, many students will stroll past a device that someday could save a life.

These devices, called automated external defibrillators, are around campus to help in case of a sudden cardiac arrest.

The devices are similar to the manual version used in hospitals or perhaps more familiarly, TV shows such as “ER,” said Greg Hayes, assistant director of the department of emergency management.

Cardiac arrest can be reversible in most patients if it is treated with an electric shock (known as defibrillation) to the heart to restore a normal heartbeat. The American Heart Association reported that every minute that passes without defibrillation, a victim’s survival chances are reduced by 7 percent to 10 percent.

More than 250,000 Americans die each year from sudden cardiac arrest, according to the American Heart Association. At least 20,000 lives could be saved annually with the use of an automated external defibrillator, it said.

“The quicker that we get the automated external defibrillator on a patient, the better chance that we have to save their life,” Hayes said.

There are about 80 of the units on campus, although the emergency management department hopes to double that amount, said Terry Cook, the director of the department. The units are in key locations such as Coffman Union and McNamara Alumni Center.

“Most people walk by an automated external defibrillator hanging on a wall Ö and don’t even recognize what it is,” Hayes said.

The devices are stored in alarmed metal cases on the wall in public locations.

“It’s much like the use of a fire extinguisher hanging on the wall – it’s sitting there ready to be used by the public,” Hayes said.

There are basically no problems with theft because of the alarms and the public locations of the units.

“They’re all tracked by serial numbers,” Cook said. “But the main thing that keeps people from stealing them is the recognition that it can save their life or a relative of theirs.”

Dan Johnson-Powers, an emergency management coordinator, said they have had only one case of theft and that theft is unlikely because the units have no purpose other than to save lives.

An automated external defibrillator is simple to use because it provides spoken instructions as you go, Johnson-Powers said.

“The automated external defibrillator does everything for you,” Hayes said. “It does the thinking for you; there’s a little voice in there and whatever the voice tells you to do, that’s what you do.”

The unit also provides pictures that show where to apply the pads that deliver the shock.

“I still use the pictures on call,” Hayes said. “I lay the picture out right next to the patient and put the pads on them that way – it’s that simple.”

Although training is not required to use the defibrillators, the department of emergency management provides a training video on its Web site for the public.

The Good Samaritan Act protects untrained bystanders from liability or prosecution when they give emergency care to someone.

“It helps ensure when people have a chance to (help), they’re not fearful of doing something wrong Ö and being afraid of being sued,” said Mary Hedges, director of Minnesota’s Emergency Medical Services Regulatory Board.

There is a federal automated external defibrillator grant program available to states to subsidize the purchase of defibrillators and training, Hedges said. The grant awarded about $175,000 for the 2005-2006 Minnesota Automated External Defibrillator Project.

The grant helps “to get defibrillators out in community areas,” Hedges said.

The money mostly targets local law enforcement because they typically are the first to reach a victim.

The University has a contract with Philips Medical Systems, which provides the campus’s Heartstart FR2 defibrillators.

University emergency medical professionals saved two lives within one month last year at Williams Arena with the use of an automated external defibrillator, Hayes said.

The University Police Department also has one in every squad car.

“The automated external defibrillators are one of our best opportunities to save somebody who is having a heart attack by correcting their heart rhythm and bringing them back,” said Steve Johnson, deputy chief of the University Police Department. “If we can save one life, it’s worth all the money and training that we’ve done.”