Oct. 26, 2000, 11:03AM
Public heart-shocking devices would save lives, study shows
Putting defibrillators in airplanes, casinos and other crowded places -- and teaching people like flight attendants and security guards how to use the devices -- can save dramatic numbers of people in cardiac arrest, two studies show.
The automated heart-shocking devices saved nearly half of all victims in the two studies.
• Chart: How the portable defibrillator works
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About 250,000 Americans die each year of cardiac arrest, which is usually caused by a heart rhythm disturbance called ventricular fibrillation. For each minute that passes without a defibrillator shocking the heart back into a normal rhythm, survival chances drop 10 percent.
Despite that, many police and fire department vehicles, ambulances and nursing homes are not equipped with the laptop-size devices, which give an EKG readout and tell the operator whether the person needs a shock, how to apply the pads and when to press the button.
The devices are so simple to use that an earlier study of simulated cardiac arrest cases found that sixth-graders, once trained, needed only 27 seconds more than paramedics to accomplish defibrillation.
The two new studies appear in today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
In one, defibrillator-trained security guards at 32 Nevada and Mississippi casinos tried to save patrons whose hearts and breathing had stopped.
In the 90 cases where ventricular fibrillation was to blame and the patients' collapse was witnessed, 59 percent were resuscitated and survived to go home from the hospital.
Seventy-four percent of those shocked within three minutes survived, compared with 49 percent of those who had to wait longer, said Dr. Terence D. Valenzuela, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Arizona, who led the study.
In the other study, researchers examined the use of in-flight defibrillators between 1997 and 1999 by American Airlines.
In 13 cases where the device indicated a passenger was in ventricular fibrillation and the person was shocked, every one was resuscitated. Forty percent survived to leave the hospital later.