The rise of Haida Gwaii’s automated defibrillators

  • Feb. 7, 2015 5:00 p.m.

By Laura BishopHaida Gwaii ObserverEvery islands community is now home to at least one powerful life-saving device.It’s portable, easy to use and, when combined with proper training, the Heart and Stroke Foundation says any member of the public can use it to increase the chances of someone surviving a sudden cardiac arrest by 75 per cent. It’s an automated external defibrillator (AED) and, in the past few months, Haida Gwaii has gathered approximately 20 of the devices.A defibrillator uses an electric shock to correct an active but chaotic heart rhythm, which occurs during some types of heart attack.Islands proponents agree – when it comes to AEDs, communities can never have too many.”The more coverage, the better,” said Ellen Cranston of the Hospital Day Foundation, which used last years’ funds to purchase six AEDs for Haida Gwaii.”I think it’s extremely important for all communities everywhere to have access to AEDs. There’s a lot of research out there indicating that they save lives,” said Skidegate emergency coordinator Mary Kelly, who helped allocate the eight AEDs purchased by the Skidegate Band Council last year.According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, having defibrillators accessible in public locations decreases the amount of time it takes for a responder to begin CPR and defibrillation, which increases chance of survival.The Heart and Stroke Foundation and BC Ambulance donated four defibrillators to islands communities last year as part of a goal to place 450 of the devices across BC before 2015.Although it is undoubtedly positive to have increased public access to AEDs, according to Ms. Kelly, it’s no time to sit back.”An AED. in a community is only as good as the policies, procedures and training programs in place,” she said.Right now, Skidegate is developing policies and procedures to cover first aid training, maintenance schedules and supply replenishment for the eight AEDs that were distributed throughout the village.AEDs work best in conjunction with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (C.P.R.) and, although many of the devices will talk a rescuer through the motions, the best way to ensure accurate technique is to take a first aid course.Haida Gwaii Recreation Commission coordinator Lucy Neville said multiple islanders have recently been certified as first aid instructors and will begin offering courses in multiple islands communities.Ms. Kelly and nurse practitioner Lisa Corsie are two of these instructors and have big plans to ensure Skidegate residents have the knowledge and skills to use C.P.R. and and one of their eight AEDs in an emergency.”Our aim is to start by training target groups that access the buildings where AEDs are located, such as the firefighters, first responders, health care workers and teachers,” Ms. Kelly said. Within the next eight weeks, Ms. Kelly and Ms. Corsie are hoping to hold public trainings for anyone in Skidegate who wants to do them, offering in-home courses at convenient times, like evenings and weekends.”I think there are a lot of people who are afraid of AEDs. I don’t think they realize that the new machines will not deliver a shock to someone with a normal rhythm,” said Ms. Kelly. “Come, take a course and take the mystery out of them.”Ms. Neville said she thinks the Skidegate Band Council’s initiative in this matter is commendable.”It’s great. It creates an obvious disparity between the number of AEDs in other communities. Hopefully it will initiate everyone to get moving on this,” she said.Ms. Cranston agrees, acknowledging the hard work it takes to get these systems in place.”I think this is just the beginning. I suspect we’ll have more coming to the islands in coming years,” she said. “It’s sometimes difficult to make things move quickly. It has to become a priority. It takes a, ‘Let’s do it and let’s do it now’ attitude. It takes a champion.”

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