CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Local research shows very few people who are helping a patient experiencing cardiac arrest think to find the nearest Automated External Defibrillator.
While most people are familiar with the concept of CPR, chest compressions to keep blood moving through the heart, it seems AEDs are not as well-known.
And an AED is an electronic device that can issue an electric shock to help restart a patient's normal heart rhythm.
AED usage can dramatically increase a patient's chance of survival when used within minutes of the cardiac problem.
Usually, that is before paramedics or fire fighters can get to the scene. That means it's up to bystanders around the patient to act quickly.
Emergency responders have been mapping out the life-saving devices in the Lowcountry for a couple of years now. But they need help expanding the regional effort.
Charleston EMS Division Chief Carl Fehr says they created an AED database to make it easier when someone calls 911.
"Dispatchers will talk you through the process of doing CPR, but also tell you where the AED is," said Fehr.
There are 500 devices registered so far. Most are in Charleston County. But there are a lot more buildings and businesses in the community and, they believe there are more AEDs, too. Fehr says they especially want to add more from Dorchester and Berkeley Counties.
Any business can add its AED location for free to the database at: http://aed.charlestoncounty.org/aed-registration.php
"After you register with the database, that AED location will pop up in the dispatch notes. So, when someone calls from that location, the dispatcher will actually be able to see where the AED is in the building."
Fehr said dispatchers will ask if a caller knows where an AED is in the building, and that's when the caller often gets frantic if he or she isn't sure.
With the registry, the dispatcher can talk the caller through exactly where to find the AED. It's helps relieve some of the panic and feeling of "just waiting around" for first responders in an emergency.
The device itself talks the user through how to deliver a shock.
Fehr says this registry is critical because it could very well be your family member or friend who needs help in the future.
Tony Butler and his teammates were playing basketball at the Mt. Pleasant town hall gym back in December. Butler's medical checkups have always been good, his blood pressure normal. Yet, as he puts it, "it happened."
Butler had just wrapped up one game and the guys playing the next court over convinced him to stay and join in.
"I was there about 5 minutes and didn't feel right," said Butler. "So I went and sat on the bench. And they tell me I slid onto the floor and was… was gone."
His heart stopped. One player called 911. Someone else ran to the police station next door.
"And one of them went to the office and got the AED," said Butler. Luckily, firefighters were at the gym by that point and could use the AED quickly. "They zapped me two or three times. The next thing I remember is being in the ambulance. Going across the bridge."
Butler survived. He is still sore from his ribs being broken during chest compressions. He's working on building up his basketball stamina again.
It's an experience that is still hard to talk about. "I still get emotional about it. is grateful of course. My poor wife probably went through more than I did…Not knowing…Having to go the hospital. Told to hurry," said Butler.
But he is thankful he stayed to play that extra game. Otherwise, he would have gone into cardiac arrest while driving his car home from the gym.
"I'm very lucky. I feel blessed," Butler said.
Most cardiac arrests don't turn out like Butler's. Only about 25% survive.
"Every second counts," said Dr. David French with the Lowcountry AED and CPR Alliance. https://www.facebook.com/LowcountryAEDAlliance/
Dr. French and MUSC medical student Lisa Petruncio researched this locally. They found the majority of people are willing to help in a medical emergency.
"But they're just not quite sure how," said Petrunico. "And what was actually pretty scary to us is that only about two percent of people actually spontaneously thought of using an AED."
"People have just a few minutes to intervene before there's either permanent brain damage or we can't reverse the cardiac arrest at all," said Dr. French.
Petrunico trained Live 5's Carter Coyle how to use an AED and it only took about three minutes.
"I would feel 100 times more comfortable doing it now that I've practiced," Coyle said after the training.
"Right! That's why we want people to come out, use them, put their hands on the device and really get comfortable," said Petruncio.
They are in the process of planning training days and hope to demonstrate AEDs at local sporting events where there will be large crowds this summer.
The Alliance is already piloting a program to teach CPR and AED usage to high school students in the Lowcountry. The Alliance is partnering with local hospitals, too.
According to its website, "Roper St. Francis HeartSave is a community health initiative that has placed automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) in more than 300 public places throughout the Charleston area including schools, churches, restaurants and medical facilities." http://www.rsfh.com/heart-vascular/patient-support/heartsave/
The goal is for people who witness a cardiac emergency to think not only to call 911, but to also think to grab an AED. While training helps with a rescuer's comfort level, you don't have to be trained.
Anyone can use an AED.
You do have to know where it is, which is why the regional registration database is so useful for someone calling 911.
"I think every business should have one," Butler said about AEDs.
Note: An AED won't do anyone any good if it's not working properly. Just like a smoke detector, you must check the batteries every year. Look for expiration information on the tag of the device and on the defib pads.