Alberta mom heads campaign to educate public on AEDs

FAIRVIEW, Alta. — Kim Ruether doesn’t know if her son would have lived if she had been with him when he collapsed from cardiac arrest in the high school gymnasium, a defibrillation machine at his side.

What she does want people to know is that they shouldn’t be scared to use the automatic external defibrillator (AED) machine that may have saved Brock’s life.

On May 12, 2012, Brock collapsed at the St. Thomas More school gymnasium in Fairview during volleyball practice. Two hours later, he was pronounced dead at Fairview Hospital.

People in cardiac arrest have a high survival rate if they receive a defibrillation shock within the first few minutes after collapse, said Ruether, who has started Project Brock, an AED awareness campaign.

“Something good needs to come out of something that was so tragic,” said Ruether, a farmer and senior X-ray technologist at Fairview Hospital.

Ruether wants AED machines to be in every grain elevator, school and public place, but also wants an education campaign to make people aware of how easy the machines are to use.

They are small, portable devices used to identify cardiac rhythms and deliver a shock to correct abnormal electrical activity in the heart.

None of the staff or students with her son that night knew how to use the machine or were too scared. The 911 dispatch operator told them to get the AED machine from the school but didn’t say to put it on Brock.

Mike Hoffman, manager of national AED programs for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, said the life saving ability of the machines is clear.

“More and more they’re starting to save lives. The chance of survival is 75 percent of people who receive an AED within the first three minutes of response time,” said Hoffman, who estimates the 6,000 AED machines across Canada have saved at least 97 lives.

The survival rate of a cardiac arrest victim decreases by seven to 10 percent for every minute delay in defibrillation. After more than 12 minutes, the survival rate is less than five percent.

In Brock’s case, more than 10 minutes elapsed between when the 911 call was made and EMS workers arrived and used their defibrillator, reducing his chance of survival to zero percent. The school AED lay on the floor unused.

Hoffman said he wants AED machines to be as common as fire extinguishers.

“We want them wherever the public visits.”

Ruether agreed.

“We need to have legislation in place that AEDs become as common as fire extinguishers. They should be part of the building code requirement. All schools should require AED and all schools must include drills and training,” said Ruether.

“A fatal lack of education remains.”

Ruether said she was also scared when she was handed an AED ma-chine after Brock died.

Like other people, Ruether thought AED machines were complicated and dangerous and should be used only by trained professionals. She now realizes they are simple ma-chines with step-by-step instructions that even kindergarten children could use.

The machines have simple diagrams and verbal instructions telling the user where to place the two sticky pads on the chest. The machine won’t deliver a shock if the patient doesn’t need one even if the button is pushed accidentally.

During her AED presentations, Ruether sticks the pads on her chest and presses a button to show how simple, easy and safe the machines are to use.

“It’s hard. Unless you have someone put their hands on one and try it out, they’re still scared.”

Statistics aren’t kept for sudden cardiac arrest in Canadian schools, but 3,000 students die in the United States a year from sudden cardiac arrest. The average age is 17 1/2 and 90 percent are male.

“In every case, when a young athlete collapses and is not breathing, abnormally sudden cardiac arrest should be the first consideration. Every school should have an AED with training and drills,” she said.

“Every oil field worker needs it to go out onto the site. It seems ironic the people who are looking after our children don’t have the skills to save a life.… All schools need AED machines and training and response plans. They need basic education of cardiac arrest and know how to perform CPR and use AED rapidly.”

The 911 call that was made after Ruether’s son collapsed has been reviewed and recommendations were made to the 911 dispatch protocol, including requiring the operator to tell the responders to get the AED and put it on the patient.

Since she began Project Brock, Ruether has worked with organizations and placed almost 30 AED machines in northern Alberta schools.

She has also talked to local municipal organizations and other rural groups promoting the need and awareness of AED machines.

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