According to the National Institutes of Health, ninety-five percent of those stricken with Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) die from it, most within minutes.  Quick response with an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) can be lifesaving.  Okay, we know this, and we see AED’s hanging on walls in restaurants, stores and public places all the time.  But when the time comes and seconds are critical, will someone be there who knows what to do?  Or better yet, can that “someone” actually be you?

old couple restaurantAs we age, we begin to become concerned about the “what if’s” of life.  What if my significant other, parent or even child should collapse from Sudden Cardiac Arrest?  Well, traditional thinking says that we get on the phone, call 9-1-1 and get EMS to respond to the situation.  In the best of conditions, EMS is at least five to seven minutes away.  In that time, the patient can die.  Each minute of delay in treatment reduces the chances for survival by ten percent.

If an AED is available on site, it should be used.  These are wonderful devices that can be used effectively to save lives.  They have been designed to be used by someone with no training by providing easy-to-follow instructions and voice prompts.  But in the moment when emotions (and confusion) are running high, can YOU handle the situation?

A friend always said that in an emergency, people respond in the way that you have trained yourself to respond.  So taking a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the AED and its use could literally make the difference between life and death.

aedThe Automatic External Defibrillator is a lightweight battery-powered device that is designed to deliver an electrical shock to a person in sudden cardiac arrest, spurring the heart back to normal rhythm.  It is important to note that not all Sudden Cardiac Arrest cases mean that the heart has stopped beating completely.  In many cases, the muscles in the heart have instead gotten “out of sync” and losing its ability to pump blood.  The AED’s shock helps the heart resume the normal rhythmic pulses that are needed to effectively pump blood.

So my loved one has collapsed.  What do I do next? 

From the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Before using an automated external defibrillator (AED) on someone who you think is having sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), check him or her.  If you see a person suddenly collapse and pass out, or if you find a person already unconscious, confirm that the person can’t respond. Shout at and shake the person to make sure he or she isn’t sleeping.  Never shake an infant or young child. Instead, you can pinch the child to try to wake him or her up.

Call 9–1–1 or have someone else call 9–1–1. If two rescuers are present, one can provide CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) while the other calls 9–1–1 and gets the AED.  Check the person’s breathing and pulse. If breathing and pulse are absent or irregular, prepare to use the AED as soon as possible.  If no one knows how long the person has been unconscious, or if an AED isn’t readily available, do 2 minutes of CPR. Then use the AED to check the person.

Using an Automated External Defibrillator

Before using an AED, check for puddles or water near the person who is unconscious. Move him or her to a dry area, and stay away from wetness when delivering shocks, remembering that water conducts electricity.

Turn on the AED’s power. The device will give you step-by-step instructions. You’ll hear voice prompts and see prompts on a screen. Expose the person’s chest. If the person’s chest is wet, dry it. AEDs have sticky pads with sensors called electrodes. Apply the pads to the person’s chest as pictured on the AED’s instructions.  Place one pad on the right upper chest above the nipple. Place the other pad slightly below on the left of the chest.  Do not put a pad over any metal, such as piercings.

Automated External Defibrillator

    The image shows a typical setup using an automated external defibrillator (AED). The AED has step-by-step instructions and voice prompts that enable an untrained bystander to correctly use the machine.

The image shows a typical setup using an automated external defibrillator (AED). The AED has step-by-step instructions and voice prompts that enable an untrained bystander to correctly use the machine. Make sure the sticky pads have good connection with the skin. If the connection isn’t good, the machine may repeat the phrase “check electrodes.”

If the person has a lot of chest hair, you may have to trim it. (AEDs usually come with a kit that includes scissors and/or a razor.) If the person is wearing a medication patch that’s in the way, remove it and clean the medicine from the skin before applying the sticky pads.  Remove metal necklaces and underwire bras. The metal may conduct electricity and cause burns. You can cut the center of the bra and pull it away from the skin.  Check the person for implanted medical devices, such as a pacemaker or implantable cardioverter defibrillator. (The outline of these devices is visible under the skin on the chest or abdomen, and the person may be wearing a medical alert bracelet.)  Also check for body piercings on the chest, and don’t put a pad over any metal.

Move the defibrillator pads at least 1 inch away from implanted devices or piercings so the electric current can flow freely between the pads. Check that the wires from the electrodes are connected to the AED. Make sure no one is touching the person, and then press the AED’s “analyze” button. Stay clear while the machine checks the person’s heart rhythm.

If a shock is needed, the AED will let you know when to deliver it. Stand clear of the person and make sure others are clear before you push the AED’s “shock” button.  Start or resume CPR until emergency medical help arrives or until the person begins to move. Stay with the person until medical help arrives, and report all of the information you know about what has happened.

So what is next?

You should become familiar with the signs and symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest so that you can recognize it if it happens.  Then become familiar with the AED and its functions.  first aid signTake a CPR course in your area to familiarize yourself with the latest in the science and technology of CPR.  Take the course even if you have taken CPR classes in the past – you will find that things have changed and that you maybe have forgotten some important information.  (Look online or click on the links below for classes in your area.)

When in public places, train yourself to look for AED locations in case you need it.  This is not to become paranoid, but instead you are just being prepared “just in case.”  Program your cell phone to call 9-1-1 with a one-button process – check with your cell phone provider and manufacturer for instructions.

Here are some links for more information.  Remember, in the emergency, you will respond in the way you have trained yourself.

Train yourself to save a life.  Do it today.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

Red Cross CPR Training:

American Heart Association CPR Training: