Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Life-saving alternative

Defibrillators: For heart victims

Thousands of Americans whose lives could easily be saved die each year of heart failure because of slow emergency response. That's the conclusion of a USA Today study, titled "6 Minutes to Live or Die," published Monday and today in the Enquirer.

The study focused on structural problems in cities' emergency medical systems - particularly infighting between fire departments and ambulance services. Those problems ought to be addressed, and emergency systems must adjust to changing needs and economic conditions.

But there's another solution that bypasses those problems - the portable defibrillator. The device, which delivers a charge to restore normal heart rhythm after cardiac arrest, is easy to use and, with minimal or even no operator training, can save a life in those crucial minutes during which a heart must be restarted.

The American Heart Association estimates that at least 100,000 of the 35,000 U.S. cardiac-arrest deaths each year could be prevented if defibrillators were in common use.

In 1996, led by then-City Councilman Charlie Winburn, Cincinnati began testing defibrillators in police cars. Since police often are the first to arrive at an emergency, it makes sense; several area police departments have adopted the devices. Some school districts, such as West Clermont, Lakota and Sycamore, have them. So do local businesses such as Procter & Gamble and American Financial. The FDA recently approved the first in-home defibrillator, which sells for about $2,000.

Cities should fix their emergency response systems. But when seconds literally mean survival, it's good to have a proven alternative at hand.

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