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Drive begins to give cops a new way to save lives

The Heart Association wants about $750,000 to put heart-starting defibrillators in every patrol car in Hernando and Pasco counties.

By MATTHEW WAITE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 10, 2003


Without a mobile defibrillator and a quick thinking Hernando County sheriff's deputy, Ernest Lane would have died in court.

Lane, at the Hernando County Courthouse on Oct. 2, 2001, slumped in his wheelchair, his heart stopped. According to a Hernando County sheriff's memo, Deputy James Bettineschi went to Lane, started CPR, and later used the defibrillator to shock Lane's heart back to beating.

Lane survived, and Bettineschi received a commendation for saving his life.

Now, the Pasco-Hernando Chapter of theAmerican Heart Association wants to put the same tool that saved Lane's life that day in the hands of hundreds of more deputies.

Starting this year, the association is raising more than $750,000 to buy 372 Automated External Defibrillators, or AEDs, and put them in every Pasco and Hernando county sheriff's car on patrol.

Dr. Rao Musunuru, a cardiologist at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point and president of the Florida chapter of the American Heart Association, said the idea of the AED is not much different from what people see on television.

When someone's heart stops in a hospital, Musunuru said what happens is just like the show ER: someone calls "code blue," and a crash cart comes out with a defibrillator that will shock the heart back into rhythm.

"The idea is . . . take this same scenario out to the community," Musunuru said. "Not everyone is going to be in the hospital when their heart stops."

All ambulances have a defibrillator on them, but deputies often get to heart attack victims before the ambulances, he said.

And since every minute that passes after the heart stops decreases the chances of survival, speed counts, Musunuru said.

"In 10 minutes, the chances are almost zero," he said. At seven minutes of heart failure, brain damage occurs that can't be fixed.

If a deputy can get to a heart attack patient in five minutes, "that five minutes could make the difference between the patient living or dying, or having a brain or not," Dr. Musunuru said.

The AEDs are a basic version of the other defibrillators. The machine gives the user instructions on what to do and when to do it. Musunuru said anyone could use one.

The association estimates that it will need 252 AEDs at $1,750 apiece. Add $77,823 in training and education, the total bill for Pasco is $518,823. Hernando will need 120 AEDs, and $37,059 in training for a total of $247,059.

The effort to put AED in cars is in the early stages. Pasco sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said the agency was looking at the AEDs, but officials had no timetable on when they would get them.

The major fundraiser for the effort will be in May, when the association holds its Heart Ball, where a $1,000 donation brings two invitations.

Musunuru said he wants to see deputies with defibrillators as soon as possible, but there is work to do.

"We may not be able to do all that this year," Musunuru said. "But we have to start somewhere."

-- Matthew Waite can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6247, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6247. His e-mail address is waite@sptimes.com .

To donate

Call the Pasco-Hernando chapter of the American Heart Association in New Port Richey at (727) 848-8924.

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