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The shocking truth about AEDs

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The vast majority of the larger boats have AEDs, Automated External Defibrillators. But how many of these AEDs are working properly and how many crew know when and how to use this life-saving device?
Here are a few simple questions to ask your crewmates to see who is ready to use an AED.  
First, what is an AED and how does it work?

An Automated External Defibrillator, or AED, is a portable, battery operated electronic device about the size of a laptop computer. The AED automatically diagnoses the potentially life threatening cardiac arrhythmias of ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia in a victim. It is able to treat the patient with an electrical shock which stops the arrhythmia, and allows the heart to re-establish an effective rhythm.

Why do we need an AED on board? Can’t we just do CPR?

According to the American Heart Association, more than 325,000 people in the United States die each year from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Without the AED, the chances of surviving SCA in the United States are very small – less than five percent. However, if the AED is applied to the victim quickly, their odds increase to between 70 and 90 percent. Sudden cardiac arrest, which is the leading cause of death in the United States, kills more people than breast cancer, lung cancer, and HIV/AIDS combined. Currently, 95 percent of all cardiac arrest victims die.

If defibrillation is so important, why should I perform CPR?

CPR helps circulate oxygen rich blood to the victim’s heart and brain. This circulation delays both brain death and the death of heart muscle. CPR buys time until the AED arrives plus, CPR also makes the heart more likely to respond to defibrillation.

How often will the AED shock someone?

AEDs programmed with the current 2010 CPR guidelines analyze the victim every two minutes. This means that the AED could potentially deliver a shock once every two minutes. It may not shock every time because each time it analyzes the victim to determine if a shock is necessary.

Can I hurt the victim with the AED?

No. AEDs are designed to only shock someone in cardiac arrest. By using one, you can only help.
Can the AED hurt the rescuer if used improperly?

If you are touching the victim while a shock is being delivered, it is possible to get hurt. Always make certain that no one is touching, directly or indirectly. Indirectly means you are connected to the victim by either water or metal.

Can AEDs be used to treat children?

Yes, for children in cardiac arrest, AEDs with pediatric pads or a pediatric key, should be used. If an AED with pediatric capabilities is not available, standard AED pads should be used. Please note – if children are present on your vessel you should have the right tool for the job. Purchase pediatric AED electrode pads.

Should I take off the patient’s clothing before using the AED?

The chest should be exposed to allow placement of the AED electrode pads. A woman’s bra should be removed and all necklaces and chains should be moved out of the way. You may need to cut off clothing to save time.

Can I place the AED electrode pads directly on a hairy chest?

The AED electrode pads must be placed directly on clean, dry skin. If the chest is hairy it may prevent good adhesion of the electrode pads. If there is a lot of hair you must quickly shave them. If the chest is wet or oily, quickly dry it. Please note – only the areas where the pads are to be placed must be shaved or dried.

How much does an Automated External Defibrillator cost?

AEDs range in price between $1200 and $1700. Please note – buying a used AED or buying one from a salesperson with little knowledge about the AED, is not recommended. These are life saving devices – if they fail, your patient dies. Talk to an expert that has actual hands on experience using AEDs.

We do a lot of diving, should we have an AED on the tender?

Yes, you want to apply the AED as quickly as possible. For each minute that passes, a victim’s odds of survival drop approximately 10 percent. Imagine how long it takes to pull a diver from the water onto the tender, bring them to the main ship and then shock them? Having an AED on the tender is a must.

How often should we test or inspect our AED?

At minimum you should inspect your AED, battery and pads on a monthly basis. You should record this inspection in your logbook with the other safety inspections you conduct.

Who should I call if our AED needs service?

Call or e-mail the CPR School, or other knowledgeable AED service provider with questions. Often we can troubleshoot and do not charge for the communication.

In summary, make certain you have a properly functioning AED onboard. If you take the tender out often, you should consider an additional AED for the tender. CPR AED training is also very important, stay tuned for a future article on CPR AED or call us to schedule an onboard class for your crew.

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 +1-561-762-0500 or keith@theCPRschool.com. Comments on this column are welcome at editorial@the-triton.com.

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