Posted on 05/04/2012


Contrary to expectations, the winners of a contest to locate lifesaving portable medical devices in Philadelphia relied on old-fashioned shoe leather.

That was just one surprising outcome of MyHeartMap Challenge, the University of Pennsylvania’s project to map the locations of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) — backpack-size gizmos that can save cardiac arrest victims if used in time.

Another surprise: The original estimate of 5,000 public-access defibrillators was way too high. A more accurate guess, Penn researchers now say, is 2,500. And contestants identified locations for 1,500 of them.

But the biggest surprise was that walking into a building, finding out whether there was a unit, and snapping a photo of it was tremendously difficult. Often, the defibrillator hunters were confronted by blank stares, red tape, or mistrust.

The winners — Frankford High School athletic director Jack Creighton and information technology analyst Jennifer Yuan — had to be politely, but exceptionally dogged. Each found more than 400 units, and each will receive a grand prize of $9,000.

“Sometimes we’d go out for three or four hours and not be allowed to take a single picture,” Creighton said of his team, made up of his wife and daughter. “At Independence National Park, they said, ‘Oh, we can’t show you where the AEDs are. National security.’ At the sewage treatment plant, they said, ‘We’ll have to check with our lawyers.’ They never called me back.”

Defibrillators can detect whether a heart has stopped because of an arrhythmia, then deliver a therapeutic electric shock. It will not fire if a shock won’t help, and even an untrained bystander can follow the step-by-step audio instructions.

However, no one maintains a comprehensive list of AED locations. MyHeartMap aims to create an interactive registry that will become part of the city’s 911 call system and be available through a smartphone app. Also, a map showing the AED locations will be on

Initially, MyHeartMap leaders thought the contest would be a great opportunity for “crowdsourcing” — using the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, and smartphones — to maximize collaboration.