When it comes to surviving sudden cardiac arrest, time is the enemy.
In fact, studies show that odds of survival are greatest when an automated external defibrillator (AED) is applied within three to five minutes of a witnessed collapse, says Sam Shartar, senior administrator for Emory's Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response (CEPAR).
"The faster you can defibrillate someone, the more likely you can resuscitate them and help save a life," says Shartar. "AEDs have been proven to contribute to good outcomes."
In recognition of the fact that sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a leading cause of death in the United States and Canada — and building upon Emory's commitment to creating a safe, healthy campus environment — CEPAR has launched a program to help boost the odds of survival by placing AEDs throughout Emory's campus communities.
Over the past month, CEPAR facilitated the installation of 300 AED units in buildings across Emory's main campus, Oxford College campus, Midtown campus, Grady campus, Yerkes Field Station, and non-clinical Emory Healthcare facilities, says Shartar.
AEDs have also been placed in all Emory police cars, with the intent of improving response times. A LUCAS CPR device was also provided for Emory EMS to enhance resuscitation efforts.
The new AED units are located in small metal cabinets installed in public spaces — most commonly near restrooms or elevators — and marked by signs that jut out from walls for maximum visibility.
Small, portable, user-friendly devices, the AEDs "talk" users through a set of simple directions, analyze a heart rhythm on the spot, and, if someone is in cardiac arrest, deliver an electrical shock to the heart.
"An AED will not deliver a shock unless there is an irregular, shockable rhythm detected," Shartar explains.
That shock, called defibrillation, can provide an essential corrective jolt to help the heart re-establish an effective rhythm. Unlike television and movie depictions of defibrillation, volunteers don't have to worry about employing large paddles or seeing victims lurch about dramatically.
The effect is subtle, but it's a game-changer when it comes to survival, Shartar says.
"You can't harm someone with an AED if you follow the instructions provided by the device" he adds. "In fact, there is a very good chance that you will save a life."
A chance to save lives
The aim of the new program is to ensure that AEDs are readily available to Emory faculty, staff, students and visitors with standardized equipment that is consistently maintained across campus, Shartar explains.
"Cardiac arrest is not a hypothetical situation — it can happen anywhere, at any time," he says.
According to the national Heart Rhythm Society, more than 350,000 deaths occur each year as a result of SCA. And 90 percent of those who experience the condition will die.
"Communities can improve sudden cardiac arrest survival by taking steps to increase the likelihood of bystander CPR and delivery of a timely shock," says Alex Isakov, associate professor of emergency medicine and executive director of Emory's CEPAR.
"By facilitating ready access to an AED, and encouraging CPR training, the Emory community is better prepared to give a SCA victim the best possible chance for survival," he says.
To raise public awareness around the signs of SCA — and to help people know what to do when they witness it — October has been named Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month.
With hundreds of new AEDs now available throughout the Emory community, Shartar says it's a great opportunity for the community to review simple steps that anyone can take to help save a life.
For starters, it helps to know what SCA looks like. If you see someone collapse to the ground in an unresponsive state with breathing that is not normal:
- Call 911 immediately
- Begin chest compressions.
- Retrieve AED and turn on the device.
- Follow voice directions and simple illustrations found inside the AED kit, which offer step-by-step instructions.
- Continue chest compressions until help arrives; designate someone to meet emergency responders outside the building and guide them to the patient.
Measuring outcomes can make a difference
A new report from the Institute of Medicine has endorsed the creation of a national registry to track out-of-hospital cardiac arrests as well as increased efforts to teach bystander CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) to communities.
And Emory may be in a unique position to help.
In 2004, Emory and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collaborated to launch the CARES (Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival) Program. Since then, the program has expanded nationally and internationally, now encompassing more than 800 EMS agencies and more than 1,400 hospitals, covering a population base of over 85 million, or 25 percent of the U.S. residents.
"CARES is a performance improvement program designed to provide communities the data they need to improve the likelihood of survival from sudden cardiac arrest," says Bryan McNally, associate professor of emergency medicine and CARES executive director. "CARES data have demonstrated that communities that measure their performance improve their performance."
"It was created to help us learn more about where the opportunities are to improve the rate of survival for sudden cardiac arrest, which can help us change outcomes," he says.
Though offering medical aid might seem daunting to the average person on the street, Shartar says that the odds of actually helping someone in SCA far outweigh the risk of failure. AED units only deliver a shock when the heart rhythm indicates cardiac arrest, and it is not dangerous to begin chest compressions even if the heart is beating, he says.
The bottom line? It simply doesn't hurt to try, says Shartar.
Under Georgia's Good Samaritan Law, those who offer emergency aid will not be held liable for medical outcomes as long as they were acting "in good faith," which includes following the simple directions provided on the AEDs, Shartar notes.
SOURCE: Emory University