Portable defibrillators are intended to fight one of the leading causes of premature death in the United States: cardiac arrest. Unfortunately, people are not prone to have a heart attack in a convenient location; say, in a hospital or near an EMT station. No, most of them take place at home, in restaurants, at the gym, airport, a shopping mall and a host of other very inconvenient places.
That is where a portable defibrillator comes in. It has been determined that the first five minutes after the onset of the attack are the most critical. For every minute that passes the odds of surviving drop by ten percent! Yet, studies also show that only around five percent of victims survive when the event occurs in one of those locations. That is over 460,000 people dying every year! As a result, many communities have pushed to make some sort of defibrillator available in high-traffic zones: e.g. malls, community centers, parks.
In a normal heart, a regular heartbeat keeps the blood flowing throughout the body; all of it regulated by the heart's own pacemaker. A small, simple series of electrical pulses is all that is required. But, for whatever reason(s), that pulse can be interrupted and/or scrambled. This causes what doctors call ventricular fibrillation (VF), the heart is no longer able to contract and expand because its rhythm is so disorganized. Often in this situation, people will try CPR, but it is, at best, a temporary stop gap. CPR does improve the chance of survival, buy a few more precious minutes, but people rarely recover from VF through CPR alone. The true mitigating factor that saves people is the prompt application of some kind of defibrillation.
In some sections of the nation, the survival rate for heart attacks in a public location is as low as one percent! And this is not just in rural areas; New York City is on that list. With the advent of portable defibrillators, some of which are fully automated, the prospect of saving more lives in the future looks most promising. They make it possible for ordinary people who have no emergency response or medical training to use the devices effectively. As recently as 2003, a study found that defibrillators used by trained volunteers almost doubled the survival rate of heart attack patients who had suffered their attacks in a public place.