Medical device people: make defibrillators smaller and weatherproof

More people survive heart attacks in Seattle, WA and Edmonton, Canada: “the survival rate for cardiac arrest is three times as high in Edmonton as in Ottawa: 9 per cent versus 2.7 per cent, even though response times by emergency workers such as firefighters and paramedics are virtually identical in the two cities.” The difference is how many people in the street know how to administer CPR–and are willing to do it.

I didn’t realize that survival rates for cardiac arrest were so poor (only 2.5 to about 12 percent in the Canadian provinces where the study was done). Surprisingly, the latest U.S. stats from the American Heart Association (2001) look different. They indicate that 1 out of every 5 deaths in the U.S. is from coronary heart disease (that’s the clogged arteries variety of heart problem), but that 42% of those who have an attack die, and that another 13-plus million people are living with angina (chest pain due to coronary heart disease).

The Globe article says most people who have a heart attack are alone–meaning they won’t survive–but that applying CPR raises by 4 times the chance of surviving, and then using a defibrillator raises survival rates by 3 times. (Idle thought: I wonder if so few people survive heart attacks in Canada because it’s just not as densely populated–so more people are alone when it happens?)

I can see where if the device people could make defibrillators smaller and package them to be impervious to weather (well, and theft), they could be installed in every public building and on the street, kind of like fireplugs. The citizens could be trained in the use of these things and–even if they weren’t willing to apply CPR (in this day of HIV fears and so on, many people wouldn’t dream of touching a stranger’s lips for any reason)–they could use the defibrillator.

Of course, if the victim lives, then the victim has to decide is he or she wants to go through all the risky business of surgery–where long-term survival rates are still somewhat low. What would a few extra years be worth to you? Could be miraculous in a case where you realized there were things you still wanted to do and then you did them.