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Every minute counts to save a life

With the initiative Restart a Heart Day celebrated around the world this month, Cheryl Watson, Wairarapa community liaison for Wellington Free Ambulance [WFA] is doubling down on her goal to “get as many automated external defibrillators [AED] out there as possible”.

“We know statistically that every minute counts,” Watson said, “so for every minute that a person is not having timely cardiopulmonary resuscitation – CPR – their chance of survival reduces by 10 to 15 per cent.

“If an AED is available, then it can actually increase the chance of survival up to 80 per cent.

“That’s a massive difference.”

There are currently 45 AEDs in public spaces and buildings throughout Wairarapa, with 28 of those installed this year.

“We’ve just installed three out at Castlepoint, for example, in different locations and we’ve been slowly working our way out to those more remote areas including Whareama and Mount Bruce.”

With the support of the Lloyd Morrison Foundation, Watson helps deliver WFA’s Heartbeat CPR and AED training programme in Wairarapa, a free 90-minute course available to families, community groups, businesses and organisations.

The course is designed to get people comfortable with delivering “good, timely CPR”, which can “basically help save a life”, particularly important in a large, rural region like Wairarapa where paramedics may have to cover large distances to reach a patient.

Since January, Watson has trained more than 800 people and she’s noticed a positive relationship between delivering the Heartbeart training and the uptake of AEDs.

“What tends to happen is people attend the training and see the value of investing in an AED.”

Wairarapa Building Society [WBS] recently installed the first publicly accessible AED on Queen St in Masterton.

“For us it was a no-brainer,” WBS chief executive John Healy said. “An AED is another backup to help save lives and so is important for the community.”

An external unit – which is publicly visible and accessible 24/7 – purchased from WFA costs $3765 [exclusive GST] and Watson has seen residents fundraise to purchase and install an AED after attending training.

WFA will maintain free-of-charge AEDs purchased through them.

“We replace the batteries and pads for free. And if they are used, we take them away to sanitise and we give the community a temporary loan of an AED while we’re doing that, so they’re not without one,” Watson said.

Teghan Mear, communications and engagement manager for the New Zealand Resuscitation Council, agrees the importance of AEDs in helping someone survive an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest [OHCA] cannot be understated.

And while she acknowledges there may be nervousness around the use of AEDs, she stressed they are “really smart” machines and designed to be very easy to use.

“If you know how to turn on a machine by pushing a button, you know how to use an AED,” Mear said.

The boxes that house an AED are usually opened with a code, which is given by calling 111.

“All you need to do is turn it on and it tells you what to do. There are pictures that tell you how to apply the pads and the AED verbally tells you to do CPR.

“A lot of them have metronomes built in to help you have the right timing for doing the chest compressions.

“Then [the AED] scans the body and tells you whether a shock is required or not.

“So no one has to make that decision on whether they need to deliver a shock, the AED tells you to do that.”

Statistics for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest [OHCA] events in New Zealand are sobering.

About six people a day in Aotearoa will suffer an OHCA – more than 2000 a year.

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