Every second counts: Portland city hall installs defibrillators to boost chances of survival

Posted March 13, 2012, at 2:58 p.m.
Last modified March 13, 2012, at 5:48 p.m.
Phil Napolitano describes how an Automated External Defibrillator saved his life several years ago when he collapsed during a pickup basketball game in Yarmouth.
Phil Napolitano describes how an Automated External Defibrillator saved his life several years ago when he collapsed during a pickup basketball game in Yarmouth. Buy Photo

PORTLAND, Maine — Phil Napolitano’s day on Oct. 7, 2006, started out like any other.

“Go to work, come home, and look forward to playing basketball with a group of guys in Yarmouth, Maine,” he recalled Tuesday. “However … it didn’t turn out to be a normal day for me, because while playing basketball, I collapsed on the court.”

Napolitano accompanied Portland Mayor Michael Brennan and local American Heart Association spokeswoman Brenda Vitali on Tuesday morning at Portland City Hall to announce the installation of two new automated external defibrillators at the site. An AED, as it’s known, had been installed near the school gymnasium where he was playing more than five years ago, and a friend used the device to shock Napolitano’s heart back into a regular rhythm long enough for medical responders to arrive.

Now, he said he’s lucky to count himself among the advocates for the widespread dissemination of AEDs. The alternative could have been death.

“Without quick and easy access to an AED, 90 percent of victims of sudden cardiac arrest die, with few victims surviving by the time an ambulance arrives,” Brennan told the assembled media Tuesday morning. “Even here at City Hall with a fire station just across the street, seconds matter. For every minute that a victim goes without defibrillation, the chance of survival decreases by 10 percent.”

Doing the math, Vitali made the next jump, adding that after 10 minutes, a person’s chance of surviving sudden cardiac arrest are almost nonexistent. She added that sudden cardiac arrests are different afflictions from heart attacks, and can strike healthy individuals of all ages without warning or cause. Brennan said 600 people in the United States suffer sudden cardiac arrests daily, while 250,000 American die from the ailments each year.

“They can happen to anyone at any time,” Vitali said.

The two new AEDs will be installed on the first and third floors of City Hall and cost approximately $1,500 each. The devices were funded largely by the proceeds of the March Into May 5K road race, Brennan said. While the mayor said that several City Hall employees are being trained to use the AEDs, the devices have clear directions that make them easy for almost anyone to use, as was demonstrated by Gene McAuliffe, a representative of ZOLL Medical Corp.

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