What could you do if you saw someone collapse in sudden cardiac arrest, a condition in which the heart stops beating and which can kill in minutes?
Calling 911, checking for breathing and a pulse, starting cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) -- all are part of the chain of survival. But the real difference between life and death for most cardiac-arrest victims is the availability and use of an automated external defibrillator, or AED.
Numerous studies show that not only are most bystanders unfamiliar with the portable, battery-powered devices and their locations, but many emergency dispatch centers and paramedics don't know where all the devices are.
"Unfortunately, many people don't know they exist,'' said Steven Tannenbaum, chairman of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association, a New York attorney and cardiac-arrest survivor who trains people to use the devices. "People are surprised at how simple and safe they are to use." He says he's alive today because "two angels'' knew what to do to revive him when he collapsed in May 2009.
In an ideal world, everyone would be familiar with AEDs and CPR, and one of the devices, which provide the electric jolt needed to restart a heart, would be within a few hundred feet of any spot in a public place. Emergency dispatchers would be equipped with lists of each AED's location, and could tell callers where to find them. And phone apps would exist to provide anyone with the same information.
Many groups are working toward those ideals, but for now, finding an AED depends more on individual effort and a bit of detective work.
Here's what experts say you can do to prepare to save a life:
(Reach Scripps health and science writer Lee Bowman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com.)