- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2003

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The first major test of public-access defibrillators found that placing the devices in office buildings and shopping malls and training ordinary people to use them can double the chances of survival of cardiac arrest.

Defibrillators have become standard equipment, like fire extinguishers, in many airports, convention centers and health clubs. Although earlier studies suggest they are safe, there has been no clear proof until now the devices increase survival.

Each year, about 250,000 Americans die from cardiac arrest, which can result from heart attacks, underlying heart disease or accidents, among other causes. While most such deaths happen in the home, roughly 20 percent occur in public places, and 95 percent of victims die even before reaching the hospital.

Paramedics can shock victims’ hearts back to a normal beat with defibrillators, but they rarely arrive in time. Every minute spent waiting for a paramedic lowers the chance of survival by 10 percent.

The latest study was intended to determine whether putting automated defibrillators, about the size of laptop computers, into the hands of ordinary volunteers increased the chances of saving lives.

About 1,500 defibrillators were distributed to 993 sports facilities, shopping centers, entertainment venues, community centers, office buildings, factories, apartment buildings, transit centers and schools in 24 cities. About 20,000 volunteers who worked at those locations took part. Half were taught to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation only. The rest also were shown how to work defibrillators.

After almost two years, there were 292 attempted resuscitations and 44 survivors — 29 among the volunteers who used defibrillators, and 15 among those who performed CPR alone. Most victims in the study were in their 60s and 70s.

Dr. Joseph Ornato of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond presented the results yesterday at a meeting of the American Heart Association.

“The bottom line is we believe defibrillators in public facilities will double survival, if there are trained teams to use them,” he said.

Dr. Raymond Gibbons of the Mayo Clinic said he hopes the results will persuade more businesses to install defibrillators.

“It potentially will have an enormous impact,” Dr. Gibbons said of the study. “Hopefully, over time, this will save lives.”

Epidemiologist Clay Mann of the University of Utah, who headed the project in his state, said the devices seem to be most useful in shopping centers, fitness clubs and other recreation areas where elderly people often congregate.

In one case at a fitness center, a 41-year-old man walked on a treadmill while his wife swam in the pool nearby. The man collapsed suddenly with cardiac arrest, and two women working the front desk had him hooked to the defibrillator within a minute.

“He was shocked twice and woke up before his wife arrived from the pool,” Mr. Mann said. “He’s doing just wonderfully.”

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