ASHBOURNE is lucky enough to have three public access defibrillators, with more planned, thanks to a campaign led by Councillor Ann Smith, and nearby Mayfield village was recently donated a machine by the Mayfield and Ellastone Community First Responder group.
However, the idea of using a defibrillator on someone who is in cardiac arrest often causes unnecessary concern and worry, with a common misconception that people need to be trained beforehand.
Modern technology means that anyone can pick up these lifesaving pieces of kit and use them straight away, with no fear of causing pain or lasting damage to the patient.
Put simply, the defibrillators do all the work for you, and unless the machine detects an abnormal, life-threatening heart rhythm it won’t allow an electric shock to be delivered.
If you are faced with an emergency and you believe someone has gone into cardiac arrest your quick and positive actions can mean the difference between life and death.
First of all, in any emergency situation, you need to make sure you are safe yourself.
Check around; look for dangers such as exposed wires, still active machinery and anything else that may have caused the original problem.
There is no point risking your life or endangering others.
Once you are certain the area is safe check to see if the patient is breathing.
You can do this by putting your ear close to the patient’s mouth, listen and feel for breathing; you can also turn your head towards his chest and see if there is movement.
If he is not breathing, or he is making strange gasping sounds, call 999 immediately and tell them your patient is not breathing.
The call handler will give you the access code needed to open the wall-mounted defibrillator box.
If there are two of you then get the other person to start cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) straight away. This means pumping hard and fast on the patient’s chest, just slightly to his left, and at the same height as his nipples.
The British Heart Foundation has produced a memorable advert featuring Vinnie Jones, suggesting that CPR is done to the same beat as Staying Alive.
If you are on your own then you need to get the defibrillator opened and pads attached before you start CPR.
As soon as you lift the lid to the defibrillator an electronic voice will guide you through the steps.
First of all you need to remove the pads from inside; they are already attached to the machine, so simply tear open the packet and place them on the patient’s chest as shown on the packaging.
One pad goes on the patient’s right side, high up towards his shoulder by his collarbone, and the second on his left side, roughly where you imagine his rib cage to end.
You will need to expose his chest to do this, but don’t waste time undoing buttons or worrying about modesty, in a life and death situation you need to act fast so either cut or rip his clothes to gain access.
As soon as you have the pads in place then start CPR, hard and fast as described above.
If someone else is doing CPR tell them to continue while you apply the pads.
It’s really important that CPR is continuous once it has started.
The machine will tell you exactly what to do while it is analysing the patient’s heart rhythm, and will tell you to stop CPR when necessary.
The defibrillator will either tell you a shock is advised, or to continue CPR.
If a shock is needed the machine will charge itself ready, and the big red button at the front will flash when complete.
You will be instructed to stand clear, and make sure no one else is touching the patient, before you press the button.
As soon as you have given the shock you can start CPR again, and the cycle will continue until the ambulance service arrives.
If you feel comfortable giving rescue breaths then do, but if you aren’t then don’t let it stop you doing CPR.
Inside the defibrillator box you will find a plastic mouth guard, which can be placed over the patient’s mouth, allowing you to have a protective barrier between you.
Give two breaths to every 30 chest compressions.
Victoria Tufail, community response manager for West Midlands Ambulance Service, said: “There are around 60,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in the UK every year.
“When someone goes into cardiac arrest every minute without CPR and defibrillation reduces their chances of survival by 10 per cent.
“So having public access defibrillators is vital, especially in rural communities and the great thing is that people don’t need to be trained to use them as they are fully automated and talk the user through the entire process.”
Free Heartstart courses, which teach basic life support skills including CPR to anyone over the age of 12, are available for private groups, schools and businesses.
More information on courses is available by emailing Mayfield and Ellastone First Responder group on firstname.lastname@example.org or Bob Street on Bob.Street@emas.nhs.uk