Prince Edward IslandCBC Investigates

'The closer, the better': P.E.I. defibrillator registry to provide faster response in cardiac arrests

'The more that are out there the better it is for everybody'

Sally Pitt - CBC News

October 04, 2017

Donna Butler, APM Centre manager, regularly checks the AED to make sure it's working properly. (Tom Steepe/CBC )

A province-wide registry of automated external defibrillators, which would provide quicker access for people in cardiac arrest and improve chances of survival, could be in place on P.E.I. by the end of the year.

'The closer it is, the better it is.' - Donna Butler

Island EMS, which handles calls to 911, currently estimates there are between 200 and 300 AEDs on the Island, but that doesn't mean they can access them.

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"We wouldn't know where any of the AEDs are," said operations manager Matthew Spidel.

A CBC News Investigation has learned all of the Atlantic Canadian region is in a similar situation.

AEDs apply an electric shock to the heart that jolts it back into action. The faster a heart can be restarted, the greater the chances of survival.

A P.E.I.-wide registry of AEDs will likely be a 'positive investment,' says Island EMS operations manager Matthew Spidel. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, most cardiac arrests happen at home or in a public space, but the chance of survival is only one in 10 if it happens outside a hospital.

However, the chances of survival double if an AED is used within the first few minutes of cardiac arrest.

Dispatch locates closest AED

When the provincial defibrillator registry is up and running, a computer program will automatically identify the closest AED and alert the owner that someone nearby is in cardiac arrest.

Island EMS operations manager Matthew Spidel says defibrillator registry on P.E.I. would help emergency responders assist 911 callers when someone is in cardiac arrest. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

"Whenever a cardiac arrest call comes in, the new software is actually going to recognize it," Spidel said.

"It's going to send a message to owner of the AED — the closest AED — and notify them that there's a cardiac arrest at this address and ask them if they're able to respond."

If the owner can't take it to the scene, EMS will ask the 911 caller if someone can be sent to retrieve it at the registered address.

Pads with the AED kits are applied to those in cardiac arrest to deliver an electric shock aimed at restarting their heart. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

An EMS dispatcher would then instruct the caller how to use it, or EMS will look for the next closest defibrillator.

Most fire departments have AEDs now, Spidel said, and Island EMS will continue to rely on those trained first responders.

'The more of them that are around the better off everybody is.' - Scott Wakelin

However, the registry will also include AEDs located in community centres, rinks, businesses and private residences if they opt into joining the registry.

The ones that do will be inspected to make sure they're up to standard. Those on the registry will get automatic reminders when batteries or parts need replacing.

'Life and death few minutes'

The North Rustico Lions Club got its AED earlier this year, and donated a second device to the local school, Gulf Shore Consolidated.

Lions member Scott Wakelin is also a volunteer firefighter in the community. His fire department has two AEDs in its trucks, and he's seen first hand how important it is to start using a defibrillator as soon as possible.

As a volunteer firefighter, Scott Wakelin knows how important minutes can be in responding to a cardiac arrest. (Sally Pitt/CBC)

"It is a life and death few minutes, so the faster you can do it the better off the person is of surviving," he said.

Wakelin is looking forward to a province-wide registry.

"I think it's awesome. I do know there's a lot of private citizens that have them in their homes," he said.

"I just think they're an amazing piece of equipment and the more of them that are around the better off everybody is."

The AED at the Cornwall APM Centre is on display in the lobby. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

The APM Centre in Cornwall got its AED back in 2010 and it was first used a very short time after it was installed, said manager Donna Butler.

"We used in a situation on a spectator at a hockey game. That spectator was revived, and is still living today, and for sure it's because of the AED," she said.

'Minutes seem like an eternity'

The average response time for an ambulance on P.E.I. is eight minutes and 15 seconds, according to a government release in May — and that time is almost a minute faster than the year before.

But Butler said having an AED in the building offers the chance of an even faster emergency response.

"My past history is, when you're standing there watching someone and they're in that type of a situation, minutes seem like an eternity for anything to happen," Butler said.

The North Rustico Lions Club got its mobile defibrillator earlier this year. (Sally Pitt/CBC)

"So I think the closer it is, the better it is."

The P.E.I. government, Island EMS and the PEI Heart and Stroke Foundation have been talking about the registry for more than a year, but Health PEI told CBC it's on track to start setting it up this fall and hopes to have the registry in place by the end of the year or in January.

Meanwhile, Spidel would like to see them in as many locations as possible on P.E.I. — not just those that are open 9-5 weekdays.

One study in Ontario suggested locating AEDs in coffee shops and by ATMs to increase accessibility. 

"Any of the high traffic areas we certainly would like to see an AED visible," Spidel said.

"We're very hopeful this is going to be a positive investment."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sally Pitt
Producer

Sally Pitt is a producer with CBC and has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years in online, TV, radio and print. She specializes in justice issues and also works with the CBC Atlantic Investigative Unit. You can reach her at sally.pitt@cbc.ca.

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