Automatic external defibrillators save lives.
Kevin Alley, aquatics director at the University of Maine at Machias, knows this for a fact. One spring evening in 2007, he grabbed the AED off the wall in his office and used it to jump-start the heart of a heart attack victim who had collapsed, without a pulse, beside the college swimming pool.
The 59-year-old man was revived and survived the episode without serious complications.
Today marks the beginning of National CPR-AED Awareness Week, and the American Red Cross hopes more people will get trained in both lifesaving techniques. While cardiopulmonary resuscitation remains a crucial first-responder skill, an AED’s ability to shock a stalled-out heart into life is growing in recognition and importance.
A few seconds after the portable device delivered its powerful electrical charge, Alley said, the heart of Stan Smith, a scuba instructor from Jonesboro, started beating. By the time an emergency crew arrived and was putting him into the ambulance, Smith’s eyes were open and he was asking questions.
“As soon as he opened his eyes, I knew this story was going to have a happy ending,” Alley said in a recent interview. Smith was flown to a Portland hospital, had a stent placed and was back home in Jonesport the next Tuesday. Thanks in large part to the rapid poolside response, he not only survived his heart attack, but he suffered no significant damage to his heart or his brain from lack of oxygen.
CPR uses a combination of rescue breathing and chest compressions to oxygenate a fallen victim’s blood and circulate it to the brain and heart. According to Alley, who teaches courses in CPR, AED, lifeguard and first aid certification, cardiopulmonary resuscitation on its own is unlikely to save a life.
“CPR just keeps things moving until the AED arrives,” he said. It was Alley’s good fortune, and Smith’s, that UMM student and lifeguard Melissa Johnson was on hand to perform CPR while Smith set up the AED and delivered the shock. It was more good luck that the only AED on the entire UMM campus was — and still is — located just a few steps away from the pool, in Alley’s office.
“Every minute defibrillation is delayed, the chance of survival decreases by 10 percent,” said Lynn Barboza, health and safety director for the Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross. The chapter has offices in Bangor, Rockland, Caribou and Ellsworth, and offers CPR and AED training in all locations.
The portable, battery-operated electronic devices weigh less than 5 pounds and are nearly foolproof. Once activated, a recorded voice provides simple, straightforward instructions for placing the two adhesive pads on the victim’s chest. The machine then analyzes the heart activity to determine whether a shock is appropriate, and delivers the shock if it is.
CPR should be initiated before using an AED, interrupted while the electrical charge is delivered, and continued until the heart resumes beating.
Barboza said AEDs are located in an expanding number of sites around the state, including high schools, town offices, department stores and public libraries. Even some of Maine’s famed schooners and windjammers have added AEDs to their emergency supplies, she said.
“The more available they are, the more lives we save,” Barboza said.
The devices typically cost between $1,500 and $2,500.
Alley said he’s trying to obtain grant money to purchase more AEDs for the Machias campus.
Since the poolside episode in 2007, he said, “I’ve had a lot of people ask about getting one.”
He encourages everyone to become familiar with the simple instructions for using an AED.
“They’re basically foolproof; you really can’t screw it up,” he said. “Even if you’re just a good Samaritan, the more people who know about this, the better.”