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I applaud the efforts of the Charlestown Ambulance and Charlestown Parks and Recreation to make automated external defibrillators accessible on a 24/7 basis, as rapid defibrillation is a key component in improving neurologically intact survival from sudden cardiac arrest.

Sudden cardiac arrest is a public health crisis. More than 356,000 cardiac arrests occur outside hospitals annually in the U.S., nearly 90 percent of them fatal. An anticipated 20 to 30 cases of sudden cardiac arrest will occur in Westerly this year. Survival depends largely on immediate bystander intervention with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the use of automated external defibrillators.

Following a cardiac arrest, each minute without treatment decreases the likelihood of surviving without disability, and survival rates depend greatly on where the cardiac arrest occurs and cardiac arrest survival rates are unacceptably low. Cardiac arrest treatment is a community issue, requiring a wide range of people to be prepared to act, including bystanders, family members, first responders, emergency medical personnel, and health care providers.

Improving survival from cardiac arrest is not complicated, but it is not easy. The very nature of cardiac arrest requires bystanders to be ready, willing, and able to act. Additionally, to be successful their actions in combination with care provided by our EMS/fire and first responder agencies must occur within a system that coordinates and integrates each facet of care into a choreographed group effort, focusing on neurologically intact survival to discharge from the hospital.

In order to be truly successful, we need to implement strategies to optimize recognition, response, care and outcomes for cardiac arrest patients. The incremental value of ongoing system quality improvement (public health surveillance), early recognition and emergency number activation, pre-arrival instructions, bystander initiated CPR, rapid defibrillation strategies, high quality CPR, and regional systems of care that incorporate evidence based recommendations is essential.

Call to action:

Lobby elected officials to reform 911 practices, restore funding to our 911 system and make telephone CPR training mandatory.

Learn CPR and how to use an automated external defibrillator.

Move defibrillators into 24/7 accessible enclosures throughout our community.

Support of our local EMS/fire and public safety agencies.

Looking for more information? Need help in organizing training or placement of defibrillators? The HEARTSafe Charlestown-Westerly advocacy group can help. You can find more information at heartsafewesterly.org.

Life itself is extremely fragile. In the time it takes for the heart to beat just once, everything can change. Don’t wait for the help. Be the help.

David B. Hiltz

Westerly

The writer is a member of the HEARTSafe Charlestown-Westerly HEARTSafe Committee, which focuses on communitywide interventions to effectively increase survival and improve outcomes from sudden cardiac arrest and other acute cardiovascular emergencies.

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