A Shocking Way to Save Lives
"What was impressive about the device was that in no case was a shock
recommended or advised for someone who wasn't in ventricular fibrillation,"
says Robert Kowal, MD, PhD, assistant professor of internal medicine at the
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Even sixth-graders have quickly learned how to use defibrillators, and their
response time is only thirty seconds slower than emergency medical technicians,
according to one study. Now that politicians as well as physicians are talking
about placing the $3,000 machines in almost any public place, what are the
chances someone using it with little or no training could make the situation
Theoretically, defibrillators can actually cause an irregular
heartbeat if it malfunctions or is used incorrectly. Based on what he's seen,
the likelihood of that happening "is very low," says Richard Page, MD,
director of clinical cardiac electrophysiology at the University of Texas
Southwestern Medical Center.
- Each year in the U.S., there are about 350,000 cases of sudden death, where
the heart's electric system causes an irregular heartbeat. Researchers suggest
putting a device called a defibrillator in more public places. A defibrillator
can shock a sick heart back into a normal heartbeat pattern and could saved
roughly 35,000 lives.
- If someone uses a defibrillator on 10 patients within two minutes of the
start of trouble, five would be expected to live.
- Test programs are training police officers and flight attendants on how to
use portable defibrillators. Organizers say many lives have been saved. They
add the novice-friendly equipment has not delivered a shock when it wasn't