Life-Saving Tool That Increases Heart-Attack Survival Should be Widely Available in Public Places, Experts Say
Virtua Health Gives Free, Easy-to-Use Defibrillators to Area Organizations,
Seeks to Expand ‘AED’ Donation Program to mark Heart Month
Feb. 2, 2023 - When a blow to the chest sent NFL player Damar Hamlin into cardiac arrest, he was fortunate to receive immediate, live-saving care, right on the football field. Emergency responders used an AED – automated external defibrillator – to restart the heart of the 24-year-old athlete. That rapid intervention is likely the reason he survived.
This powerful story has brought greater attention to the incredible benefit of AEDs, which shock the heart into a life-sustaining rhythm. Importantly, AEDs can be used by virtually anyone during an emergency – even those with no medical training.
Using audio commands and simple illustrations, “the AED will tell you everything you need to do,” said Phyllis Worrell, emergency management coordinator for Virtua Health, South Jersey's largest health system. “It will tell you how to check for consciousness, how to put the defibrillator pads on. Some brands give CPR instructions, such as ‘Push hard and fast in the center of the chest,’” she said.
More than 356,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur annually in the United States – almost 1,000 a day – and nearly 90% are fatal, according to the American Heart Association. However, AED use nearly doubles the rate of survival, a study reported.
Every moment is critical in such situations, noted Anthony Sauerwein, MD, a Virtua cardiologist who once saved a man’s life with an AED when both were exercising at a local gym.
“You need to revive people in five minutes, or brain damage starts to occur,” said the physician. “Getting the heart back into a regular heart rhythm can sometimes only be done with a shock.”
That’s why it’s so important for AEDs to be widely available throughout the community, Dr. Sauerwein emphasized.
The experience of a recent Virtua patient is another example. A few months ago, Ken Hogan of Mount Laurel was out to breakfast with his family when he collapsed. Fellow restaurant patrons raced to his aid and performed chest compressions, while the staff called 911. Emergency medical responders arrived quickly and began using an AED. Hogan survived and recovered, likely due to those fast-acting good Samaritans plus the rapid use of an AED. (Read Hogan’s full story here.)
“Two things have the greatest impact on a person’s chance of surviving sudden cardiac arrest: bystander CPR, and then use of an AED,” said Worrell. The former longtime paramedic once saved a woman in a supermarket with the store’s AED.
Although heart attacks generally occur in adults with heart disease, the condition strikes people of all ages. In rare instances, children and adults struck in the chest can go into cardiac arrest – as was the case with Damar Hamlin.
“I’ve responded to two cardiac arrests involving kids playing baseball,” said Worrell. “That’s another reason athletic facilities need to have AEDs.”
Virtua Donates AEDs
In fact, Virtua Health has long supported the distribution of AEDs in public spaces. Together with the support of its generous donors, Virtua has given nearly 100 AEDs to other not-for-profit organizations throughout the region, including athletic associations, community centers, and religious institutions.
Dr. Sauerwein, who also serves on the Virtua Health Foundation Board of Trustees, is a key advocate for Virtua’s AED community distribution initiative. He and the other partners in his cardiology practice have helped provide necessary funding for the donated devices, which cost about $1,500 each.
Now, he and Virtua hope to do even more.
“We’d like to be able to expand this effort and provide AEDs to many more organizations across South Jersey,” Dr. Sauerwein said. “We’re looking to get other physicians involved, and anyone else who’d like to join our efforts to save more lives.”
Anyone Can Be a Hero
Given that February is American Heart Month, now is a perfect time to get involved.
Dr. Reg Blaber, Virtua’s chief clinical officer and a practicing cardiologist, has also raised funds for public AEDs. The physician – who chaired last year’s American Heart Association South Jersey Heart Walk – offers these tips, which could give someone a second chance at life:
- Identify and memorize the location of AEDs in places you visit frequently, such as your workplace, house of worship, stores and recreational facilities. Often, entrance doors have an AED sticker with a red heart. While there is no standard location for an AED, they are often mounted on a wall near an elevator or in a store’s customer service area.
- Watch videos online that demonstrate how AEDs work. You’ll see how simple they are to operate, and you’ll have more confidence if you ever need to use one.
- In an emergency, call 911. In New Jersey, the dispatcher will talk you through what needs to be done – from providing CPR to asking if an AED is available.
- Enroll in a CPR class, and encourage your friends and family to participate, too. Virtua Health offers several community programs, including CPR for use on children and infants. (CPR classes for the public use hands-only techniques, with no rescue breathing.) For Virtua courses, visit https://virtua.enrollware.com/schedule or call 856-581-7580.
In addition, the American Heart Association offers: