21 October 1999

Shocking Children

by Kate Melville

If you are a heart attack candidate then take note - the mental image you may have of emergency medical personnel shocking patients back to life with defibrillators may be about to change. According to a new report in Circulation: (Journal of the American Heart Association) even school children can use automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to save the lives of cardiac arrest victims. According to Dr. Gust Bardy of the University of Washington Medical School, ". AEDs are literally easy enough for a child to use.".

AEDs can be used to restore a normal heartbeat in people who have had a sudden cardiac arrest. Ventricular fibrillation is where abnormal electrical activity of the heart that causes the heart to tremble uncontrollably. This causes, little or no blood to be pumped from the heart and the person tends to loses consciousness quite quickly. Unless appropriate medical intervention occurs quickly the risk of death is very high (survival rates drop at around 10% per minute). Using an AED gives an electrical shock to the heart in order to try and restore a normal rhythm.

"The development of user-friendly defibrillators is a major advance in our efforts to improve the chances of surviving a sudden cardiac arrest", said Dr Bardy ,whose study was the first to look at whether children could successfully use an AED.

"There is a persistent idea that many hours of special training are required to operate an AED," says Dr Bardy. "But the fact is, these machines are incredibly easy to use. After one minute of instruction, it took sixth graders less than 30 seconds longer than a trained professional to apply a shock that could restore a heartbeat."

The research team recruited 15 sixth-grade students (with parental permission) in Seattle to take part in the study. They were then given basic instructions about how to use an AED, but were not allowed to ask any questions during the test. Their performance was then compared to that of 22 trained emergency medical technicians and paramedics who also had no previous experience with this particular type of defibrillator, but who had been trained to use defibrillators and to treat cardiac arrests. The results were spectacular, the sixth-graders took only 90 seconds on average to complete the defibrillation compared to an average of 67 seconds on average for the emergency medical technicians and paramedics. All of the participants correctly placed the electrodes, and all remembered to stand clear during the shock delivery. Almost all the students (14 out of 15) felt confident that they could teach someone else how to use the AED and everyone believed they could use the AED on a family member or friend should the need arise.

So now the American Heart Association is recommending that everyone undertakes an AED training course. However while AED's are very useful they still require knowledge of Cardio-Pulmonary-Resuscitation (CPR) as well as a reasonable knowledge of first aid.

According to Brady 95 percent of those who suffer a cardiac arrest outside of hospital die. So it's interesting to see AED's already being used in locations like airplanes and sports stadiums. Indeed Australia's national airline Qantas was the worlds first airline to provide AED's on all domestic and international flights.

So if your going to have a cardiac arrest have it in hospital, or on a Qantas jet otherwise you'll have to take your chances that there is a smart kid with an AED nearby!