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Published: Saturday, 2/10/2001

Local Red Cross promotes the use of defibrillators

Despite the popularity of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, its success in saving people with the most common form of cardiac arrest is only about 2 to 5 percent and the local chapter of the Red Cross wants to improve that rate.

The organization is following the lead of the American Red Cross, which initiated a campaign in 1999 to increase the number of portable defibrillators in communities across the country. Defibrillators are devices that administer an electric shock that can often restart a fibrillating heart.

The Greater Toledo Area Chapter of the Red Cross, which includes Lucas, Wood and Ottawa Counties, has just started its defibrillator campaign.

Local Red Cross officials held a meeting yesterday in Toledo where they made a presentation to about 15 area businesses interested in buying defibrillators.

Medical College of Ohio cardiologist Blair Grubb, an expert in treating fibrillation-type heart problems, was the keynote speaker and said deaths from fibrillating hearts is one of the most common forms of death in the country.

Each year, 300,000 to 400,000 Americans die from what physicians call “sudden cardiac death,” according to Dr. Grubb. Researchers have discovered that defibrillators are so effective, their use is becoming more common.

“What's going to happen is this technology is so effective, it will be required,” Dr. Grubb said.

The federal government has said it would place defibrillators in all federal buildings. Local agencies, including Lucas County emergency medical squads and many area law enforcement agencies, carry defibrillators. All major airlines now have them.

Costs for the devices range from $2,500 to $3,500. The local Red Cross is selling what it considers a more advanced version of defibrillators for $3,500, which includes the cost of Red Cross defibrillator training.

With each sale, the local Red Cross gets to keep a small portion of the revenue, according to Peggy Holewinski, health and safety services manager for the Red Cross.

They may be expensive, but defibrillators are much more effective than CPR alone in fibrillation cases, according to Dr. Grubb.

“The only reason you do CPR is to keep them alive long enough to be defibrillated,” Dr. Grubb said. “CPR just buys time.”

Heart attacks, which result when an artery becomes blocked, deprive the heart of oxygen but they're usually not what causes sudden death. Instead, it's an erratic quivering of the heart that causes death. Heart attacks can weaken the heart enough so that the damaged heart muscle eventually triggers the abnormal quivering.

The heart's normal beating pattern is interrupted and the heart just quivers - known as fibrillating - instead of pumping blood.

To jump start a heart that has begun fibrillating, a shock must be applied with a defibrillator. The chances of survival - if this is done within about 10 minutes (without CPR) - are significantly greater than the 2 to 5 percent accomplished through CPR alone. Dr. Grubb estimated that, depending on when a shock is administered, survival rates can easily surpass 50 percent.

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