‘Shocking’ option to save a life

Each paddle of the Lifepak 500T comes with an illustration of

– It is not an unheard-of scenario: An elderly woman goes to
Wheeler Auditorium to watch her grandson play in a basketball game
and goes into sudden cardiac arrest. She has no pulse and is not
By Lori Stuenkel

Gilroy – It is not an unheard-of scenario: An elderly woman goes to Wheeler Auditorium to watch her grandson play in a basketball game and goes into sudden cardiac arrest. She has no pulse and is not breathing.

A fellow spectator calls 911, and while the Gilroy Fire Department paramedics’ average response time of four minutes is twice as fast what the county requires, precious seconds are ticking away while the woman’s body suffers a lack of oxygen and she nears brain death.

Those seconds no longer need to be wasted. Gilroy Fire is starting a program that will train city residents to use life-saving defibrillators to get a stopped heart pumping again before paramedics arrive. The machines are already available to public in buildings such as Wheeler, and the department is encouraging businesses to place them in their buildings and train their employees.

“This increases someone’s chances of surviving by 90 percent when a victim is treated within one minute,” said Yvette Phillips, public education specialist with the GFD who is coordinating the new Public Access Defibrillator program.

The American Heart Association estimates that more than 95 percent of cardiac arrest victims – an abrupt loss of heart rhythm – die before reaching the hospital. If defibrillation is provided within 5 to 7 minutes, the survival rate jumps to as high as 49 percent.

The defibrillators often seen on television shows like “ER” used to be available only to highly trained medical personnel, such as doctors and paramedics. Now, the deployment of and training for automatic, easy-to-use defibrillators by the public is being endorsed by fire departments across the state as well as the AHA.

Four-hour classes will be held one Saturday a month for Gilroy residents who want to learn to use the machines and become CPR certified. Certification costs $25 and is valid for two years. City employees are already signing up for their training that will start in two weeks. The GFD is also encouraging businesses to consider purchasing a defibrillator and coordinating with the city for training.

There are four Automated External Defibrillators in city buildings – City Hall, Gilroy Senior Center, the City Corporation Yard, and Wheeler.

“These are all places that people go regularly,” Phillips said.

The laptop-sized machines weigh about four pounds and are stored in a wall-mounted box with a red light on top that flashes once the defibrillator is removed. The light does not mean that Emergency Medical Services has been called, though, so training will start with a reminder to call 911 with every medical emergency.

Once a person is familiarized with the defibrillator, using the machine is “easy as pie,” Phillips said.

Plus, the city’s contract with county Emergency Medical Dispatchers means the good Samaritan can receive additional over-the-phone instructions on how to use the defibrillator and perform CPR afterward.

Voice prompts and flashing lights take the user through the defibrillation process step by step. After being powered on, a woman’s voice from the machine asks the user to “connect electrodes” to the cardiac arrest victim. Labels on the electrodes indicate where on a person’s chest they should be placed. The machines are meant for anyone older than 8.

Next, a flashing light on a yellow button and a voice recording tell the user to push the button so the machine will start an analysis of the victim. If the machine detects a pulse, it will not charge to administer a shock, minimizing the possibility of misuse.

“Shock advised,” the machine says, if the victim is in cardiac arrest. A tone sounds that steadily becomes higher pitched to indicate the defibrillator is charging. Then, the red button flashes: “Stand clear.” With a push of the button, the defibrillator gives the needed shock. It typically gives three shocks, analyzing the victim between each.

If the heart resumes beating, CPR is the next step to get the victim breathing.

“It will give you back your pulse, but it won’t give you back your oxygen, your air,” Phillips said.

If the defibrillator is effective, the victim will more than likely survive with additional treatment from Gilroy firefighters and local hospitals.

By receiving the GFD’s training, Gilroy residents will not only be saving lives, but improving quality of life for survivors, Phillips said. Brain death can occur in as few as four minutes, but brain damage begins much earlier.

Those who are certified will be protected should they intervene in an emergency.

“Part of the training is education on the ‘Good Samaritan law,’ so as long as they receive the training and do only what they’re trained to do, they’re covered,” Phillips said.

The department is looking into defibrillators to find out if there is one cost-effective model, as it is strongly encouraging local businesses to invest in a machine and partner with firefighters for training. Defibrillators can cost from $1,900 to $5,000, Phillips said.

One Gilroy business, Monier Lifetile, already has a defibrillator program in place.

The Gilroy Fire Department’s first Public Access Defibrillator class will be Saturday, Feb. 5 at 10am. To sign up, contact the city’s Community Services Department at 846-0460.

Program participation

– Call the city’s Community Services Department at 846-0460

For more information:

– Visit the city’s Web site at www.ci.gilroy.ca.us

– Call Yvette Phillips, public education specialist at 846-0372

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