Heart shocker devices urged Heart association says portable defibrillators could save fans' lives


November 10, 1998|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

You know how long it takes to get to the food stands during a game at Oriole Park or Ravens stadium.

But do you know how long it would take a paramedic to muscle through the crowds with a cardiac defibrillator if your heart stopped beating during a game?

Two researchers at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond say traffic and crowding at most U.S. sports facilities make it hard for paramedics to reach stricken fans. Help would be closer -- and more lives could be saved, they said -- if there were more portable "heart shocker" machines scattered around big stadiums, and enough people trained to use them.

"Every minute it's delayed, your chances of survival decline 10 percent," said Dr. Mary Ann Peberdy, assistant professor of medicine and chairman of the hospital's resuscitation team.

That means if help arrives in one minute, you have a 90 percent chance of surviving. After 10 minutes, your chances are nil.

Spokesmen for the Ravens and the Orioles say their on-site paramedics can get defibrillators to stricken fans anywhere in their stadiums in five minutes or less. But that may not be true at sports venues everywhere.

Peberdy told a meeting of the American Heart Association in Dallas yesterday that with the cost of the "automated external defibrillators," or AEDs, now down to about $3,000 each, big-league stadiums could provide two dozen of the machines, and train 50 people to use them, for just pennies per ticket.

But the "vast majority" don't, she said, "because officials believe the cost is far higher than it actually is." She urged sports officials at all levels to "look at this a little more closely and proactively evaluate their own system."

Cardiac arrest claims at least 250,000 American lives every year, according to the American Heart Association. These are not "heart attacks," in which blood flow to a portion of the heart is blocked and heart muscle starts to die.

In cardiac arrest, the electrical impulses that control the beating heart get confused. The heart either stops or beats ineffectively. The victim typically passes out immediately. Rescuers must race to restore a normal heart rhythm before the brain begins to die for lack of oxygen.

Defibrillators deliver a jolt of electricity to the heart, and with luck, it begins to beat again. New technology has produced AEDs, which are simple and easy enough for laymen to use.

More and more fire companies, police departments, casinos and airlines are using them, and the Heart Association is working to widen their acceptance.

Orioles spokesman Bill Stetka said Camden Yards got its first AEDs for the 1998 baseball season. They are at the first aid station behind home plate, in the dugouts, in the Orioles executive offices and in the ballpark's security office beneath the right-field stands.

Four stadium nurses and the team trainers are trained to operate them. But they were never used. Instead, stadium personnel have allowed the two city Fire Department paramedic teams stationed in the ballpark to respond.

"They [paramedics] have gotten to them first, and have better equipment," Stetka said. He had no response times, but said he's made it from the press box to far left field in three minutes NTC "at a brisk walk."

Chuck Cusik, facilities manager at Ravens stadium, said the new football facility does not have any AEDs. Instead, the Ravens rely on emergency medical services provided by Maryland Express Care, a part of the University of Maryland Medical Systems.

Express Care manager Greg Bartoo said there are 30 personnel -- doctors, nurses, paramedics and technicians and five ambulances -- at every Ravens home game.

"Our standard is that a paramedic rover will be there within two minutes, and the paramedic crew essentially will take three more minutes," Bartoo said.

Pub Date: 11/10/98

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