Why aren’t AEDs Being Used in Emergencies?

POSTED: Monday, May 16, 2011UPDATED: 6:03 pm EDT May 16, 2011

Automated external defibrillators or AEDs are becoming a common sight in schools, gyms and businesses. Even local elementary school children have been trained to run and grab the device in an emergency. But experts said too often these lifesaving devices are not being used when an emergency happens. Puran Raber’s 16-year-old son Ian’s heart stopped after he was struck in the chest by a baseball at Avondale High School. The school has two AEDs, but neither was brought to the scene or used to restart Ian’s heart. “I walked through the gym doors, and I saw him laying on the floor. And EMS was working on him, and I ran over and I looked at him and I just started crying,” said Raber. “I said ‘Do you have a pulse?’ And they said, ‘No we don’t.'” Paramedics were eventually able to restart Ian’s heart, but his parents wonder if he would have had an easier recovery if an AED had been used immediately or if someone had performed CPR. “That morning, if anyone had gotten that defibrillator and brought it to Ian’s side, then maybe somebody would have used it. But it never entered anybody’s mind to go get it,” said Raber. Raber’s story highlights a basic flaw in the AED system — they’re only effective if a bystander is willing and able to use them. “AEDs don’t save lives. People using an AED save lives,” said Dr. Robert Swor, the director of Emergency Research at Beaumont Hospital. Swor said there a two sets of problems involving AED use. “One is physically where is the device? Do people know where it is? Is it locked up? And then there’s the other problem where cardiac arrest is a scary situation, and certainly they’re confusing for people,” said Swor. Dr. Frank McGeorge reported in an emergency, some people simply freeze up and don’t act. Others are afraid of hurting someone by doing CPR or using an AED, and the majority may not recognize that someone needs an AED. There are no firm statistics on how often an AED goes unused in an emergency, but researchers have studied similar situations involving CPR. Swor’s research found when bystanders trained in CPR witnessed someone in cardiac arrest, only 35 percent actually did CPR. The majority, 65 percent, did not perform CPR. McGeorge said many people don’t realize an AED won’t deliver a shock unless it’s needed, so there’s no need to be concerned about hurting someone accidentally. Swor said choosing not to use an AED dramatically reduces someone’s chance of surviving cardiac arrest. “If you get defibrillated after a cardiac arrest in a public place, your chance of survival is about 40 percent. Usually 5 to 10 percent of people survive a cardiac arrest overall. So, they’re dramatic in their ability to improve survival,” said Swor. Experts said it’s crucial for facilities that have an AED to make sure several people are trained to use the device and that training is repeated on a regular basis. Parents and employees need to ask where the defibrillators are, how many people have been trained and how often that training is being repeated. Avondale Schools Superintendent George Heitsch told Local 4 they are thankful Ian is back in school and doing well. Heitsch said because of Ian’s accident, the district plans to increase AED training to include annual refresher classes districtwide at the beginning of each school year. Avondale High School will also soon be getting a third defibrillator. “What we really need people to do is act,” said Swor. “Call 911 and start doing CPR. And if there’s a defibrillator available, get it.” Raber is now working with her children’s schools to make sure what happened after Ian’s accident never happens again. “I thank God every single night that he gave him back to us,” said Raber.