Designated Defibs Will Fit the Bill

(A version of the following article appeared in Emergency Services Ireland magazine.)

High profile cases of Sudden Cardiac Arrest in recent years such as that of Sopranos star James Gandolfini or footballer Fabrice Muamba have increased awareness of the condition which claims the lives of over 5,000 people every year in Ireland.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) can happen to anyone at any time, but as Declan O’Mahoney, Chief Executive of HeartSine Technologies – the only company to design, develop and manufacture defibrillators in Ireland or the UK – explains, much more needs to be done to ensure life-saving defibrillators become commonplace across the country… 

“In June this year news emerged that a Senator’s Bill had been introduced which aims to ensure the wide-spread availability of defibrillators, which are used to shock a person’s heart back into a normal rhythm after they suffer cardiac arrest, in public spaces in Ireland.

“The announcement was welcomed across the country as easy access to these defibrillators can mean the difference between life and death for an SCA victim.

Almost 80% of SCAs occur away from a healthcare or medical setting- for example, in the workplace, at school, sports clubs, entertainment venues or community halls.

“The principle of this Bill would make it a legal requirement to have Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) installed in these “designated” public places, just as it is a legal requirement for them  to have a fire extinguisher present.

“There are approximately 5,000 sudden cardiac deaths in Ireland each year, an average of 14 every day, many of whom could survive should access to a defibrillator be available.”

Is Sudden Cardiac Arrest the same as a Heart Attack? 

“I’m often asked if Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is the same as a heart attack. It’s not.

“During a heart attack, part of the heart’s blood supply is blocked, whereas when SCA occurs, blood stops flowing around the body completely and the heart stops beating unexpectedly.

“The definitive treatment for SCA is an electrical shock, otherwise known as a defibrillation, that ‘shocks’ the heart into the normal rhythm.

“The chances of survival decrease by 10% for every minute that this shock is delayed, so immediate access to a defibrillator is crucial.

“With Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) alone, survival rates after a Sudden Cardiac Arrest are less than 5%, but when you combine CPR with the use of a defibrillator, then survival rates increase dramatically to over 70%, which is extremely encouraging.”

Defibrillators – Belfast born and bred

 “Not many people know this, but Belfast is actually the birthplace of the portable defibrillator.

“Working at the Royal Victoria Hospital in the 1960s, in a team brought together by clinician Dr. Frank Pantridge, the late Professor John Anderson led the work to develop technology that wouldn’t restrict the use of defibrillators to hospitals.

“Right up until his death in 2012, Professor Anderson continued his work as Chief Technology Officer at HeartSine to continue the development of defibrillator technology, striving to make the devices light, portable and easy for the first responder to use. And today, that is what they are.

“Modern AEDs are programmed to diagnose the heart rhythm and instantly determine if a shock is need. They are extremely safe and should be used by first responders until professional medical help arrives.

“HeartSine devices will talk first responders through the entire ‘save’ process step by step. This means they can be used by anyone at any time, with little or even no previous first aid experience.”

Sudden Cardiac Arrest has no regard for sex or age of its victims

“Sudden Cardiac Arrest is not something that is limited to any one demographic.

“It kills people every single day, regardless of their gender, their age or their fitness level.

“People have a misconception that cardiac arrest only happens to older, unfit, males, but that is far from the truth.

“Just look at the high profile case of Fabrice Muamba, the former Bolton Wanderers football star who suffered Cardiac Arrest on the pitch in front of thousands of spectators. He was saved by a defibrillator.

“Had an AED not been readily available, he would probably not have been so lucky.

“Fabrice is an inspiration and is working extremely hard to raise an awareness of SCA and the need for accessible defibrillators.” 

Defibrillators worldwide

“Whilst there is no legal requirement in Ireland or the UK yet, some countries already have legislation in which public buildings, including workplaces and schools, must have defibrillators on site and ready to use.

“For example, fifty states in America have enacted various laws stating that areas of public gathering must have an AED available.

“This means that should someone suffer SCA at work or in school or at a concert, their chances of survival are automatically increased simply by the presence of an AED.

“Whereas in Ireland, where defibrillators are still few and far between, the chances of survival for an SCA victim could be as little as 5% as first responders are forced to rely on CPR alone.

“The stark reality is that without defibrillator legislation in Ireland, we have very little protection against SCA and perhaps see higher levels of SCA deaths which could sadly have been prevented. Purchasing a defibrillator is an extremely small price to pay if it is going to save a life.” 

Warning Signs

“Because SCA can happen to anyone at any time, there really aren’t any long term warning signs that people can be aware of.

“SCA symptoms are immediate and severe. Patients will collapse, stop breathing and lose consciousness instantly.

“If this happens to a colleague, friend, or fellow shopper in the supermarket, first responders should stay calm and act quickly by taking the following steps:

  • Phone the Emergency Services
  • Perform CPR as quickly as possible, pushing hard and fast on the person’s chest at around 100-120 compressions a minute
  • Instruct someone to find the nearest AED
  • Turn on the device and follow the instructions until professional help arrives

“SCA acts devastatingly fast, therefore you, as a first responder, need to also act fast.”

With headquarters in Belfast and the USA, HeartSine is the only company to manufacture defibrillators in Ireland or the UK. Their devices, which are manufactured in Belfast, are produced in more than 26 different languages and used in over 40 countries.

Their innovative defibrillators are the devices of choice at European Parliament Buildings in Brussels, on board Lufthansa and American Airlines aircraft and even at the White House!

Declan continued:

“It is extremely rewarding to know that HeartSine defibrillators are saving lives right across the world every single day.

“Receiving an email saying a HeartSine device has saved a young girl, or that a wife still has her husband because a HeartSine device was there, is the most gratifying aspect of my job.

“I am extremely proud of the customer base HeartSine has accumulated and believe it reflects the ease of use and high levels of quality of HeartSine defibrillators.”

The future

“Awareness of SCA is increasing, in part due to the untimely and unfortunate death of many well-known celebrities and sports stars.

“However, despite the fact more people die from SCA than from a fire in Ireland each year, there is a lot still to be done before we see AEDs as commonplace as fire extinguishers across the country.

“Today, more and more schools and sporting clubs are raising their own vital funds to purchase a defibrillator and there have been various campaigns calling on government ministers to make this a matter of urgency.

“However, I am delighted that the Health Minister, James Reilly, has accepted the principle of the Availability of Defibrillators Bill. I hope this could lead to an increase in the availability of life-saving AEDs in Ireland and prevent a significant number of unnecessary cardiac related deaths in Ireland each year.”

For more information about HeartSine and their devices, please visit www.heartsine.com

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