We’ve read about it too often – a basketball player collapses on the court in the middle of a game; a youngster gets hit in the chest with a line drive and dies a few hours later; or an elderly person slumps over, unresponsive.
Anyone who has ever witnessed a person in cardiac distress knows how frightening the scene can be – for both the patient and those nearby. Fair Lawn Police Officer Michael O’Brien said that while some events, like those mentioned above, cannot be avoided, tragedy can be prevented.
“We all know that the most important thing to do is to call 9-1-1 as fast as possible, but having some basic knowledge of lifesaving techniques can be critical in those few minutes while you’re waiting for the police or ambulance to arrive,” says O’Brien, displaying a black case holding a defibrillator.
A defibrillator is a device that delivers a therapeutic dose of electrical energy to a person’s heart to get it back to beating in a healthy manner.
“There are two cardiac rhythms that can happen that stop the heart from pumping blood efficiently,” said O’Brien.
Ventricular fibrillation (V-fib) and ventricular tachycardia (V-tach) are cardiac arrhythmias – abnormal rhythms – that can be life-threatening. That’s when the use of a defibrillator can help restore a normal rhythm. Sounds complicated, sort of like what we see on TV medical shows, and can be intimidating, said O’Brien.
“But these defibrillators are really user-friendly,” he said. “There’s a computer inside the device that gives an audible signal – it actually talks you through the steps – and it won’t work if the computer doesn’t get the right message from the person’s heart, so you can’t use it incorrectly.
“It’s quite ingenious,” he said, adding that the device is so “smart,” it measures how much electricity the heart will require to get back to normal rhythm and delivers the voltage in increments, depending on the situation. It also records a history of the use, the patient’s heart rhythms before and during its implementation, and travels with the patient to the emergency room so the medical personnel can accurately assess the patient’s status.
The devices used by the borough police department and emergency personnel cost about $3,200 each; there are less expensive models ($1,600-$1,800) that are not designed for frequent use, that are ideal for schools, churches, office buildings, small businesses, etc. Classes are available to instruct non-medical and non-emergency personnel how to use them, as well as learning other lifesaving techniques such as adult, child and pediatric CPR and first-aid, O’Brien said.
“The first six minutes are the most precious, and offer the best percentage of saving a life and averting a tragedy,” said O’Brien. “Staying calm and being prepared are two ways to help someone in need.”