Now any fed can save a life

John McCormick

Anyone can use a fire extinguisher, but only trained personnel should use medical equipment. True?

False. This applies to a leading cause of office deaths: cardiac arrest. Often all that's needed to preserve a life is just a correctly placed and timed electric shock.

Until recently, only doctors could decide whether a shock was appropriate. It's a straightforward decision, however, based on a few basic measurements'exactly the sort of thing a computer program can do.

We already have machines to take electrocardiograms. Other machines called defibrillators deliver a life-saving shock, and there are programs now that can determine whether to give it.

The three elements work together in a device called an automatic external defibrillator, or AED, which combines an EKG, defibrillator and decision-making computer.

AEDs are in place at a few office buildings already. Mine arrived only three weeks after the local ambulance squad got its first unit. You needn't be a doctor or a paramedic to use an AED for life-saving. A reasonably smart 8-year-old can do it.

Defibrillators are effective, but every second counts. Even in a city, chances are slim that a paramedic can arrive, diagnose cardiac arrest and apply a defibrillator, all within a few minutes. A cardiac victim's survival chances drop by 10 percent for every minute's delay.

I think it's reasonable for agencies to put an AED on every floor of every building, clearly marked just as the fire extinguishers are.

Of several brands on the market, I bought the Laerdal Heartstream ForeRunner, developed by a division of Hewlett-Packard Co. The reseller was Harrell Medical Inc. of Lake Oswego, Ore., which also sells to government agencies. A reconditioned unit costs about $2,700 with a spare battery that has a five-year shelf life and a spare set of chest pads.

The five-pound device, about the size and weight of a large book, performs a daily self-test. Because of this testing, a battery is good for only about a year after installation. n

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at poweruser@mail.usa.com.

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