BBC News reported of a 69 year old man who suffered cardiac arrest while on one of his regular swimming exercises at his club pool. He had done about 20 lengths when he was noted to suddenly veer off,stopped moving and started to sink. The lifeguards sprang into action, commenced CPR while the pool manager ran off to get a defibrillator which was used to shock him. He was later transferred by ambulance to the ICU where he remained unconscious for a few days but subsequently recovered enough to have a heart bypass operation. Today, he has resumed his swimming exercises.
I have noticed that tales such as this are becoming more frequent nowadays. In this case, with the implementation of UK government-funded schemes where there are some 700 of these devices in high-risk places like airports, train stations and sports centres, about a third of those on whom the defibrillators were applied survived (without using this device the chances of survival during a cardiac arrest is virtually zero). In fact, some airlines do have them on board, just in case any passenger gets a cardiac arrest. American Airlines have now carried these devices for 10 years and claim that 76 lives have been saved as a result.
Basically, the usage of this device requires a previously-trained person( all flight attendants are taught to use these devices) applying a pair of paddle-like electrodes on the chest and pressing a couple of buttons to discharge a burst of high electrical energy anywhere between 200-400 joules. This is enough to cause the affected person to go into an involuntary jerk or spasm, quite similar to that seen in TV movies. This electric ‘jump-start’ then restarts the heart to beat properly.
The device has to be applied within a few minutes of the cardiac arrest, otherwise irreparable brain damage might set in due to the loss of the pumping action of the heart.
Why are there not more defibrillators placed in public places? Basically, its a question of cost-effectiveness as each one may cost about USD 1,500. Despite this, many health advocates have called for more of these devices as several studies, including this one, have shown that placing these devices in high-risk public areas meet the usual standards of health cost-effectiveness.
If bought and used by local airlines, it would give credence to the motto “now everyone can fly!”.