AED spells life-saving aid for patrol officers

By Jan Gaillard

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — When Virginia Beach Police Officer Ken Buechner was dispatched to a cardiac-arrest case near Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital last month, he found a woman in her mid-50s with no heartbeat.

"I was on the scene in about a minute to a minute and a half. Her husband said she had stopped breathing," said Buechner, hired by the department in 2007.

The AED, or Automated External Defibrillator, was the ticket to her survival, he said.

"I had them start CPR while I began deploying the AED. It analyzes the patient, and it advised me to shock. It won't shock if it detects a heartbeat."

Buechner shocked the woman's heart a second, then a third time.

"By the time other rescue personnel had arrived, they discovered she had a heartbeat," he said. After a few days in the hospital, they were anticipating recovery.

Buechner recognized the woman's husband and daughter for giving CPR while he used the AED.

"The outcome could have been very different otherwise. I was flying high all day after that."

It was Buechner's first time using an AED, which Beach police officers began carrying in their vehicles after the City Council budgeted an initial $200,000 in 2004 for the units.

"We were developing our Emergency Response System at that time and wanted to best serve our citizens," said Emergency Medical Services Division Chief John Bianco. "Every police officer has CPR training, so we taught certain Police Department staff how to teach officers on AEDs. We didn't have to hire new officers, and after the initial equipment purchase, the cost is nominal per year to run the program."

By 2005, 166 AED units were available across the city.

"We also worked collectively with 911 - Emergency Communications and Citizens Services - to update the computer-aided dispatch guidelines so officers are typically in their zone, well-dispersed and only minutes away from a call to provide immediate help," Bianco said. "This is a priority as cardiac patients have a four-minute window from the time of cardiac arrest until brain cells begin to die."

Over the past several years, officers have used AEDs more than 50 times a year. Last year police and emergency responders counted 21 patients as cardiac-arrest survivors, those who can resume a normal life after being resuscitated. This year's count is at 16 and climbing.

Each AED unit costs around $1,500.

Though defibrillators allow officers to start live-saving treatment in the field, it's just as important for officers to start CPR and notify EMS after recognizing a problem. It's key for residents as well, Bianco said.

"Police officers and all responders have life-saving equipment, but each citizen should take CPR. Notify someone - dispatchers will walk you through the steps when you call.

"The earlier you can access 911, the quicker we can use AEDs, and that's important. You might save a life one of these days."

Copyright 2009 Virginian-Pilot

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