A New Mexico man died from a heart attack on an airline flight in late April, despite the availability of an Automated External Defibrillator. His wife told a local television station that the flight attendant didn’t use it because he had a hairy chest.
Instead of letting this man die, the flight attendant should have called for another crew member to retrieve the AED and alert the captain. Then she should have removed the victim’s shirt, quickly shaved him with the razor included in the kit, applied the AED electrode pads and followed the AED’s voice instructions.
The key is speed. For an AED to be effective it must be used quickly.
An AED is a portable, battery-operated electronic device about the size of a lunch box. AEDs typically range in price from $1,200-$1,700. The AED automatically diagnoses the potentially life-threatening cardiac condition and is able to treat the patient by an electrical shock, which allows the heart to re-establish an effective rhythm.
AEDs are designed to be simple so that anyone can use one. So simple that I often start my CPR AED first aid classes by selecting someone from the class who has never seen an AED and I ask them to demonstrate how to use it by following the voice instructions. To date, the youngest person to effectively demonstrate the AED in one of my classes was 5 years old.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires U.S. airlines to carry AEDs and enhanced emergency medical kits. When a plane is flying at 25,000 feet, it takes at least 20 minutes to land the aircraft for EMS to reach the plane. Before AEDs were placed on planes there was little chance to save a passenger in cardiac arrest while in flight.
Now, think about yachting. Although there are no legal requirements for privately owned yachts to have AEDs on board, all yachts should, especially those that charter because of increased liability.
The likelihood of surviving cardiac arrest while at sea are almost zero without an AED. And I always recommend my yacht customers have an AED on the tender. If a helicopter is onboard, it, too, should have an AED.
Why multiple AEDs? What do you do when part of the group is involved in watersports and the other group is still onboard? If you only have one AED, which group gets it? What are the odds you will forget to move the AED on/off the tender? Having one in each location increases the odds of having this life-saving device with you when you need it.
Sudden cardiac arrest claims about 350,000 lives each year – or about 930 every day — in the United States. Sudden cardiac arrest is America’s leading cause of death and kills more people than breast cancer, lung cancer and AIDS combined. About 95 percent of cardiac arrest victims die.
But this airline passenger didn’t have to die. All AEDs are supposed to have a rescue ready kit attached to them. In this kit you should have trauma shears to quickly cut away the victim’s shirt and bra, a razor for shaving the chest, paper towels for drying the chest, a pocket mask for mouth-to-mouth protection, and medical exam gloves.
Please check your AED today. If you are missing the kit or it looks old, replace it. These kits only cost $41. Having a functioning AED with the required accessories is important but proper training is essential.
There is no substitute for frequent, hands-on, onboard CPR AED and first aid training that uses real-life scenarios such as hairy chests, pregnant victims and persons with implanted pacemakers.
Keith Murray, a former firefighter EMT, owns The CPR School, a first-aid training company. He provides onboard training for yacht captains and crew and sells and services AEDs. Contact him at 877-6-AED-CPR, 877-623-3277 or www.TheCPRSchool.com. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.