AED's - The Importance of Timing

How often do we bumble through everyday life without stopping to think about how each minute that ticks by could be the difference between whether we survive or not. Admittedly this all sounds very dramatic but after attending a seminar yesterday titled – “A matter of minutes”, the importance of time and a medical device can simply be the difference between life or death.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Posturite showcase this week at Manchester’s Imperial War Museum, where in collaboration with Physio-Controls, we were introduced to the frightening facts and figures of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Established 60 years ago Physio-Controls, founded by Dr Karl Edmarle designed an automated external defibrillator – a medical device which sends an electric shock to a heart which has stopped to ideally kick start it again in to a steady rhythm.

30,000 people suffer from sudden cardiac arrest a year and only 8% survive. Don’t underestimate SCA – it is a huge killer. Thousands more die of SCA than from Lung Cancer or a Stroke.  These stats are terrifying and fortunately not something I have had first-hand experience of or had to digest before, so you can imagine I was hanging off every word in utter disbelief to try and put these figures in to context. Let me explain the basics. Once a heart stops (this can be at any time, at any age, any level of fitness) blood is no longer being pumped around the body and brain, causing the person to collapse and vital organs to shut down. CPR at this point would not be enough to keep someone alive until the ambulance services arrive. Yes CPR can keep the blood pumping around the body but the heart needs to be “shocked” by an electric pulse from an AED device to re-gain its beat.

So let’s now focus on the time factor and those vital minutes I mentioned earlier. The ambulance services are targeted to respond to a Category A call and arrive on the scene within 8 minutes – sounds fast doesn’t it? But remember the earlier stats – only 8% of 30,000 sufferers survive a SCA, so why so few? For every 1 minute that passes, the patent’s chances of surviving is reduced by 10-14%. Even if the ambulance arrives on the scene in their targeted time, the patient’s chances of survival at this point would have depleted enormously… 8 minutes x 10-14% decline = 80+% chance of fatality. Scary stuff - all of a sudden 8 minutes doesn’t seem so fast does it?

Coincidentally, on arriving home after the seminar, the front page of the local newspaper announced the unveiling of a memorial plaque and a lifesaving defibrillator which has been placed in an enterprise centre to commemorate the death of a 19 year old girl. I read the article with genuine interest as this device has been installed in my community, in the hope of increasing my neighbours, friends and families chances of survival after the misfortunate and untimely death of a local teenager. Fortunately, these defibrillators are extremely simply to use and administrate, 70% of the ambulances on our roads have Physio-Control products on-board, with the use of the AED’s shock administered within 3-4 minutes post collapse and CPR – the chances of survival increases by 74%. Now these are better figures, however there’s a but, a big but. These devices are not everywhere and you won’t see them with the frequency of fire extinguishers and other life-saving devices/aids, so why not? There is no longer a Government initiative to fund the installation of AED’s, so it’s down to private fundraising or companies to shell out. Thankfully M&S, Heathrow Airport and Asda have equally had their eyes opened to the necessity of these devices and their stores and concourse have already significantly increased survival rates. Heathrow Airport alone has improved survival rates from 8% to 50-60%. That’s a lot of people who are now able to cherish every minute of every day, who arguably without the device would make up the 8% statistic.

My personal awareness has certainly been heightened to something I sincerely hope I never have to experience but it begs the question - with such high death rates without the device and the astounding improved chances of survival with a device – why aren’t AED devices as visible in public places as fire extinguishers, first aid kits, smoke alarms, fire blankets, escape routes, after all if it gives people the best chances of survival - why not make the AED device a H&S standard? I appreciate these devices are a more expensive piece of kit in comparison but can you really put a price on a life? Does someone need to die from a SCA before people see the value?

I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this subject as currently my eyes have been opened and I’m struggling to close them knowing the fatality count could be considerably reduced – time is ticking and every minute matters.