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Donation spreads life-saving machines

An anonymous gift will pay for 24 heart defibrillators to be placed in busy public places in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

By ROSALIND HELDERMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 16, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Nelida Juarez doesn't remember much about Feb. 2.

While at work, she reached to open a door for someone, suffered a heart attack and lost consciousness. By the time Tampa Fire Rescue reached her just moments later, her heart had stopped.

But rescue workers, equipped with a portable automated external defibrillator, used just one electric shock to restart Juarez's heart.

"They put it on," said the 66-year-old Tampa resident, "and I was back."

Now, thanks to an anonymous donation given to the American Heart Association, the portable defibrillators won't just be found on ambulances. Twenty-four devices will be placed in busy, public places throughout Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, including county courthouses, tax collector offices, the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport terminal and Pinellas County parks.

With a price tag of about $3,000 for each device, the effort is not cheap -- the American Heart Association's donation totals $100,000. But officials involved with the initiative say equipping public places with the seven pound machines is worth the cost.

According to Chuck Kearns, director of Pinellas EMS and Fire Administration, Pinellas County already is equipped with 40 portable defibrillators and now will receive 14 more from the American Heart Association.

"These (devices) are proven to be life savers," he said.

The advantage of the defibrillators is speed and simplicity. When a person's heart stops, emergency personnel have only minutes to find the patient and restart the heart. Survival rates drop 10 percent for every minute that a cardiac arrest victim's heart is stopped and does not receive an electric shock.

"It's hard to get to a lot of people within a couple of minutes," said Dr. Charles Sand, an emergency room physician who is chairman of the American Heart Association's Emergency Cardiovascular Care Committee.

But the devices allow non-medical personnel, including police officers and security guards who have received some training, to administer electric shocks as soon as the victim is found.

The defibrillators also are easy to use, providing visual and verbal cues to walk users through the shock process. When the device is applied to a victim's chest, the machine looks for heart rhythms. If an electric shock is needed, it warns bystanders to clear away before administering the jolt. If the device determines no shock is needed, it advises users to continue CPR.

"These devices are so simple they can be used by anyone," Sand said. "They're literally idiot-proof."

Ms. Juarez said she is simply happy to be alive -- and grateful for the rescue team that was equipped with the portable device.

"I wish I could meet him, the one who saved my life," Juarez said. "I'd thank him very much for being there, for bringing me back to life."

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