University considers purchasing life-saving equipment

The University is considering following a national trend in public health by installing heart-restarting Automatic External Defibrillators on campus, though no decision has yet been made.

An AED is a laptop-sized electrical device with paddles or pads attached to it that, when placed on someone going through sudden cardiac arrest, sends an electrical shock through the victim's chest, often restarting the heart.

Though the elderly are most likely to go through cardiac arrest, it can happen to anyone. For instance, at AU in August 2001, then-freshman Stefan Pitts died of a heart attack while jogging. In March 2003, business professor Thomas Slivinski had a heart attack on his way to class in the Kogod School of Business building. Though no AED was available, bystanders gave Slivinski CPR, The Eagle reported in 2003. Slivinski died soon afterward, despite CPR.

On Nov. 8, someone in his late 20s collapsed in the Ward Circle Building with what appeared to be a heart attack. He was transported to the hospital without losing consciousness or a pulse, disqualifying the use of an AED. Had an AED been required, it would have taken at least 10 minutes for one to arrive.

The D.C. Fire Department arrived 11 minutes after a call was placed for help, while the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad arrived 16 minutes after the call. However, Public Safety officers - who do not have AEDs - arrived within one minute, said the department's coordinator for Public Safety administration, Sgt. Gary Folckemer.

Though AU does not have an AED program yet, other D.C. colleges do, including Georgetown University, which has at least six, and George Washington University, which has more than 10 in various public areas. Both schools also have their own student-operated ambulance services that carry AEDs.

Tony Newman, AU's director of risk management and transportation, said the University was studying the issue and "doing its due diligence" before making any decisions.

"We think that the information on the AEDs is very promising, and we are looking at it," Newman said, adding that his office had attended conferences, received presentations and met with various vendors. "We have not made a decision with regard to AEDs as yet."

The devices, which are portable and usually found in wall-mounted cases, are appearing in public areas worldwide, including many shopping centers, health clubs, business and government buildings, apartment buildings, factories, libraries, schools, airports and airplanes across the United States.

Public-access AEDs have grown in popularity over the past several years as evidence has mounted of the importance of providing cardiac arrest victims with CPR (assisted breathing and chest compressions) and restarting the heart as rapidly as possible. There is a growing sense within the medical community that even the most rapid paramedic response times are usually too slow, according to Emergency Medical Services Magazine.

However, Newman said, acquiring public-access AEDs is not a simple process, and he is assessing the University's liability in providing medical equipment to the community. D.C. law appears to provide immunity to both users and providers of public-access AEDs.

"Any person who in good faith and without compensation, used an AED to provide emergency care or treatment shall be immune from civil liability for any personal injury resulting from the care and treatment, if the person acts as an ordinary, reasonably prudent person, without gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct," District law states.

The law also grants immunity to "the person or entity responsible for the site where the [AED] is located."

Most AEDs meant for public use only have two buttons - one to turn the unit on and one to administer the shock when bystanders are clear of the patient - and are capable of deciding whether a shock should be delivered and how powerful it should be.

Another factor in installing AEDs on campus is cost, as the units cost $1,000 to $3,000 each, plus installation, training and upkeep.

Folckemer said, however, that though he does not know where AU will come down on the issue, the prevalence of AEDs across the country will greatly increase in the near future.

"My bet would be in the coming years, the next 10 years, you will probably find that AEDs will be as common in a home as fire extinguishers are going to be," Folckemer said. "What you actually do see now as you travel across the country - you see AEDs on airplanes and in airports - and that makes really good sense."

A victim's chance of surviving cardiac arrest drops by 10 percent for every minute that passes between an attack and defibrillation, according to the American Heart Association, a major proponent of public access AEDs.

The closest paramedics to AU's campus are located in the Van Ness-UDC area of Northwest D.C., and in Bethesda, Md., which means about 10 minutes in response time.

Meanwhile, Folckemer and other Public Safety officers teach CPR and basic first aid to AU staff and students, and have taught 10 classes to 78 people in the past year. Public Safety officers, resident directors, Jacobs Fitness Center staff and others have been trained, Folckemer said.

About 250,000 Americans experience cardiac arrest every year and only five percent survive. However, it is unclear how much the increasing availability of AEDs in public areas will dent this 95 percent mortality rate.

While the timely use of an AED can double a victim's chance of survival, as many as 80 percent of cardiac arrests occur at home or other locations where an AED cannot usually be found, according to a 2002 study by doctors at Glasgow University in Scotland.

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