It's Monday morning, and you're on the stairclimber, trying to burn off those inevitable weekend calories accumulated from brunch and dinner out with friends. Suddenly, the man exercising next to you collapses. You don't know what to do and frantically look for help. Is he breathing? Does he have a pulse? Then you look up at that red device hanging on the wall. You've noticed it so many times, and yet you've tried to ignore it. Like most people, you're intimidated by the little machine and had hoped you would never have to use it. But an AED (automated external defibrillator), a portable device that administers an electric shock to the heart through the chest wall, is simple to operate. So getting past that fear could mean the difference of life over death for someone in need.
Torrance Memorial Medical Center, in an effort to alleviate that fear and to get the community involved in the public's health, introduced the Public Access Defibrillation (PAD) program in 2002 and today supports 80 sites with close to 150 AEDs.
Step by Step
At the first sign that someone is in heart failure, the proper steps are to immediately call 911 and then begin administering CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) until a trained individual arrives with the AED. The portable machine then does the thinking: It uses its built-in microprocessor to assess the victim's heart rhythm through adhesive electrodes and then decides whether or not to administer a shock. But in order for the machine to do its job, a human has to do his or her job-making an AED readily accessible.
How To Get An AED
The PAD program makes the process of getting an AED into your business or organization easy. The costs include the initial purchase of the machine, which is between $1,800 and $2,000, and the cost of training ($47.50 per person for firsttime CPR/AED certification, $35 for re-certification). By law, at least one person trained to use the AED and in CPR must be on duty at all times. The logistics and paperwork associated with installing the AED are then handled by Torrance Memorial, under the management of Susan Robinson, RN, BSN, nurse coordinator for the PAD program. Robinson makes annual visits to installed AED sites and after someone has had a cardiac arrest event. She will then fill out the mandatory report form and forward it to the Emergency Medical Services Agency of Los Angeles County.
At this time, AEDs are only required in fitness centers with memberships, although many healthcare providers think they should be mandatory in schools and other public spaces. While the initial purchase can seem pricey in tough economic times, Robinson is confident the price is worth it.
In 2008, Redondo Beach resident George Brewster and his wife Sheila were working out at the South End Racquet and Health Club in Torrance. George was on the treadmill and suddenly collapsed. His breathing stopped, and his face went blue-he was in cardiac arrest. Fortunately, Torrance Memorial had helped the club obtain an AED. Personal trainer Bruno Perron retrieved the AED, jolted George's heart and began CPR, restoring the former Torrance City Council and Planning Commission member's pulse and breathing until the paramedics arrived.
A Layman's Rescue
What if the trained individual is not around and you, the layman, must step in to use the AED? Robinson says not to panic. The machine will walk you through the process. Plus, there are Good Samaritan laws in California that protect lay rescuers from lawsuits.
"When someone goes into cardiac arrest, you can't do much to harm them," says Robinson. In fact, you usually save them. "That's what's great about the machine. People are afraid they're going to shock someone when it's not necessary. But even if you press the button and it's not needed, the machine won't shock the person." Therefore, just put the patches on and let the machine do the work. She adds: "The only way you can go wrong is not opening the AED."
To learn more about the PAD program and purchasing an AED, call 310-784-4868. For a full list of participating PAD sites, visit Community Benefits.