AED Advantage recently attended the 2018 Oil Sands Tradeshow in Fort MacMurray, and among the many people we were fortunate to meet, Mark McGregor is a cardiac arrest survivor. He shared his incredible story with us.
The following is an excerpt from the Reader's Digest article from March 1999 where Mark's story first appeared.
This Machine is a Lifesaver
So why isn’t it widely available?
By Angela Pirisi
Ross Cooper, 71, of Owen Sound, Ont., had just got into bed on the evening of February 20, 1998, when he fell back, knocked his head on the headboard and collapsed. His wife, Louise, 73, heard the thump but assumed her husband had merely bumped his hand while turning over in bed. When she asked him a question, though, he didn’t respond. She said something else to him; still no response. Finally turning on the light, she was horrified to see his mouth gaping, his face purple, his eyes shut.
Not sure what was happening, she phoned her granddaughter, Mavis Tolhurst, a registered nurse, who lived across the street. Tolhurst and her husband arrived within a minute. As he dialed 9-1-1, Mavis started performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Volunteer firefighters arrived two minutes later and continued to administer CPR to Cooper, whose lips had now turned blue.
Cooper’s heart had been seized by the chaotic rhythm called ventricular fibrillation (VF), and CPR alone could not jump-start it. His only hope was the process called defibrillation – a brief electrical shock that overpowers the VF rhythm so the heart can resume its natural contractions. But by the time paramedics carrying a defibrillator reached the couple’s home, it had been more than twen minutes since Cooper’s collapse. Severe brain damage had set in, despite the fact that the emergency crew managed to restart his heart.
Four days later his family made the wrenching decision to take the brain-dead Cooper off the hospital ventilator. He died shortly after.
A great majority of cardiac-arrest victims die before help can reach them. But these deaths are not inevitable. Dr. Michael Shuster, chairman of the emergency cardiac-care coalition for the Heart and Stroke Foundation in Banff, Alta., thinks more lives could be saved. “For most cardiac-arrest victims, using defibrillation early enough greatly increases one’s chances of survival.”
Time is critical: Many cardiac arrests become fatal four to seven minutes after VF begins. so early defibrillation is the single most crucial factor. Every minute that passes before returning the heart to its normal rhythm decreases the chance of survival by ten percent; after just four minutes without defibrillation, only about 60 percent of victims survive. After ten minutes, few do.
But in rural areas as well as in traffic-congested cities, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) equipped with defibrillators usually arrive too late. For years the cardiac arrest survival rate in cities like Hamilton, for example, was around four percent. Nationwide, it still averages less than ten percent.
But a safe and effective technology exists that could improve these odds dramatically. It is the automatic external defibrillator (AED), a small computerized, battery-operated device, which can be as small as a book and weigh as little as two kilograms.
An AED is nearly foolproof to operate. And its cost – about $5,000 and dropping – is reasonable considering its lifesaving ability.
In Hamilton, AEDs have transformed emergency care of cardiac-arrest patients. In 1988 Shuster, then medical director of the McMaster paramedic program, along with Brent Browett, program co-ordinator of of paramedic services for the Hamilton Health Science Corporation, noticed that the fire trucks usually reached cardiac-arrest victims four to six minutes before paramedics did. As trained “first responders,” firefighters gave CPR but had no way of defibrillating victims, who often died.
“Why not equip trucks with defibrillators and train firefighters to use them?” the pair suggested.
Ten years later Hamilton boasts one of the highest cardiac-arrest survival rates in North America – 19 percent. Typical of recent years is 1996, when firefighters defibrillated 63 people, 42 of them with pulses successfully restored upon arrival at hospital.
The firefighters’ lifesaving efficiency was tested last April 19 at a Hamilton hockey rink. Financial consultant Mark McGregor, 36, thought things seemed a bit blurry when he first stepped onto the ice for a local hockey tournament, but he ignored it. Then after playing just one shift, he sat on the bench feeling dizzy, as though he was suffocating. “I’m not feeling quite right,” he said to a teammate.
Two seconds later his body went numb and he keeled over, hitting his forehead on the rail in his fall. His stunned teammates immediately sent an emergency hand signal across the ice, telling someone to dial 9-1-1. It was 4:41 p.m.
Firefighters Dave MacDonald, Bill Kreidl and two other colleagues arrived at 4:42. McGregor was quickly deemed VSA (vital signs absent) and the crew began administering oxygen and CPR. As MacDonald cut through the bulky hockey equipment, Kreidl pressed the AED pads firmly onto McGregor’s chest. The computer’s “voice” announced: “Analyzing heart rhythm. Do not touch the patient.”
Within seconds the recorded voice cautioned: “Shock advised. Stay clear of the patient.” Then the machine intoned the message, “Deliver shock now.” Kreidl stabbed the button. “Shock delivered,” the computer proclaimed. It was 4:44. Less than five minutes had elapsed since the 9-1-1 call.
Mark McGregor was released from the hospital three weeks later. He credits the AED with saving his life: “Thanks to the AED, my two-year-old daughter still has a father around to watch her grow.”
Hamilton’s experience has demonstrated that non-medical professionals equipped with AEDs and proper training can save many cardiac-arrest victims. Following that city’s lead, other fire departments nationwide have embraced the use of AEDs.
Calgary created an AED committee in 1994 and has since undertaken to train and equip all its firefighters and EMTs. The city now boasts an exceptional survival rate of 23 percent. The committee has also helped spearhead a public-access program that’s putting AEDs in public spaces and in the trained hands of security guards, building managers and lifeguards until, ideally, there’s on of these lifesaving devices on every city block.
Last spring the South Dumfries Fire Department in St. George, Ont., equipped its volunteer crew with an AED, using a community fund-raiser called Operation Heart Start to raise $30,000 to buy the machine and pay for training and equipment.
Likewise, AEDs have taken hold in places such as Brandon, Man., and Rainbow Haven Beach – just outside Halifax – which boasts the first beach AED program in Canada. The two-year old program operates during the high-activity summer months, when cardiac events at the water’s edge are more likely.
How can AEDs make a difference? In Ontario on April Fool’s Day, 1997, Brant County Ambulance paramedics were trained to operate a newly purchased AED. Just three weeks later, they used it to save the life of 65-year-old retired engineering technologist John Manners of Brantford, who had suffered a heart attack and gone into cardiac arrest.
Photo credit: Richard Pierre