The average human heart beats more than 42 million times every year. Every human function from breath to thought relies on the heart beating the way it should. When it suddenly stops, every minute that passes without proper blood flow to the brain reduces the likelihood of survival by 10 percent. In 2013 the EMS response time in Washington DC was just five minutes. However, five minutes without a heartbeat is fatal to brain cells. Therefore, a person’s recovery from a sudden cardiac arrest is dependent on the quick response of the lay person bystander.
How a Heart Works
Before you can understand how Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) can save a life, it is important to understand how a heart works. The heart has its own electrical system that controls how often it beats and how efficiently it pumps blood to the rest of the body. Unbeknownst to us, this electrical system functions from before we are born until the day we die. When the electrical system begins to malfunction, a condition called ventricular fibrillation results. Instead of pumping blood efficiently throughout the body, VF makes the heart quiver and does not allow blood to reach the brain, lungs, and other organs. The only way to restore a heartbeat is to introduce a strong electrical shock and allow the heart to return to its normal rhythm.
CPR and an AED Work Together
If a cardiac arrest happens outside of the hospital, the victim has only a 10 percent chance of survival. Used in conjunction with one another, CPR and an AED raise the survival rate to 40 percent. The process of CPR artificially pumps blood from the heart to the brain through chest compressions. According to the 2015 American Heart Association guidelines, a single rescuer performs CPR by giving 30 compressions first before giving two breaths in a victim. They then repeat the sequence at 100 compressions per minute until they are relieved by another rescuer or emergency response professional. While CPR can help a victim of sudden cardiac arrest maintain oxygenated blood flow to the brain, it does not address the problem of ventricular fibrillation. Since 23 percent of all cardiac arrest victims have what is known as a “shockable rhythm,” a person may be able to regain a normal heartbeat after a shock is administered by an AED. If CPR can begin while an AED is located and prepared, brain death can be delayed giving the victim a greater chance of not only surviving but recovering from cardiac arrest.
AEDs are for Regular People
The AED was designed for the layperson in mind. Most models contain picture instructions for electrode placement that advise you where to place the pads on the victim’s body. All AEDs are equipped with either a beep that signals you to administer the shock or voice commands that walk you through the process. Even if CPR is performed poorly, an AED can be used safely and effectively by any person willing to attempt to save another’s life. The only question that remains is, are you willing to step up?