When a visitor collapsed at Oak Harbor High School recently, he survived because the people around him were prepared.
The man apparently went down without showing any discernible symptoms prior to his heart attack, according to Rob May, a paramedic with Whidbey General Hospital. The office was immediately notified, 911 was called, CPR was administered and one of the school’s automated external defibrillators, or AED, was located. He was resuscitated and transported Skagit Valley Hospital.
“Without CPR and the AED, he wouldn’t have made it,” May said.
Occurrences like this show that Whidbey needs to have more AEDs to help save lives, according to May. As a result, there is a growing effort among emergency responders to place AEDs in strategic public locations island wide and to provide citizens with the training to use them.
“AEDs are going to save a lot more lives in the hands of citizens than first responders,” said South Whidbey Fire/EMS Chief Rusty Palmer. “I’m all for it. We need to have them everywhere.”
There’s around a 10 percent decrease in a person’s chances for every minute they don’t have a heartbeat.
“So after 10 minutes there’s almost no help at all,” Palmer said. “The faster you can apply electricity, the better chances they have.”
The aim of local emergency responders is to follow in the footsteps of King County, which claims to have the lowest death rate by cardiac event in the world. The cardiac survival rate in King County has risen over the past decade, from 27 percent in 2002 to 62 percent in 2013, according to the county’s website.
The reasons for this are simply increased CPR and AED training and the strategic placement of more than 100 of the life-saving defibrillators around King County.
May and Palmer said they did not know exactly how many defibrillators are currently available island wide but this is a number they are trying to identify and they hope to build the network from there.
There are some misconceptions about AEDs. First of all, you cannot shock someone who doesn’t need to be shocked with an AED. The sensors can detect if there is a heartbeat or not. Second, all a person has to do it attach the device and the AED walks you through the process.
“Anyone is qualified,” Palmer said. “It takes minimal training. The beauty of the AED is it tells you what to do. All you have to do is apply and follow instructions.”
Moving forward, Whidbey responders hope to continue to educate, build partnerships and raise funds for the purchase and placement of AEDs throughout the county. They run around $1,000 each.