PEI·In Depth

An AED helped save this man's life, now a provincial defibrillator registry could save others

A province-wide registry of automated external defibrillators helps find the nearest AED when someone is in cardiac arrest. There are now 133 publicly available AEDs on the registry.

'I never thought I'd have to use it. And it turned out that I did'

Gordie Foster, left, met Ev White when White collapsed coming off the ice after a hockey game. Since then they have found themselves playing the occasional hockey game together at Simmons Arena. (Sally Pitt/CBC)

Ev White was just coming off the ice after a seniors hockey game when everything went black.

"I collapsed at the door and went head first under the seat," he said.

Someone called 911 while others raced around the Simmons Arena, looking for someone who knew how to provide some help to White until paramedics arrived.

Gordie Foster was in a nearby dressing room and rushed to White's side.

Foster had some classroom training on cardiopulmonary resuscitation and using an automated external defibrillator — but this was the first time he'd used one on a person in distress.

Joe Deighan, an employee at Simmons Arena, says he's glad to have the AED machine, because you just never know when it might be needed. (Sally Pitt/CBC)

'Minutes matter'

AEDs deliver an electric shock to the heart that jolts it back into action. The sooner that can happen, the greater the chances of survival.

"You just never know. I never thought I'd have to use it. And it turned out that I did," said Foster.

He followed the automatic audio prompts from the machine, and administered the shocks that restored the rhythm of White's heart.

'Minutes matter when your heart is stopped,' says Amanda Landry, who handles emergency medical calls to Island EMS/Medacom Atlantic. (Youtube/PEI Government)

"I was calm, because if you're uptight and nervous you're not going to help anyone," said Foster.

Paramedics took over when they arrived minutes later, rushing White to the hospital and putting him back on the road to recovery.

"Minutes matter when your heart has stopped and we need that defibrillator for that shock," said Amanda Landry, operations manager, Medacom/Island EMS, which handles the medical emergency calls to 911.

Wondering if you have an AED close to where you live? Check out this interactive map.

There were 133 publicly-accessible AEDs registered on P.E.I. as of Feb. 21. The machines in private residences and businesses are shown by community only to protect the privacy of the owner. This map reflects general locations and indicates communities which may lack a publicly-available AED. Readers should not rely on this map to show the location of the closest AED. Always call 911 in an emergency  — the dispatcher will find the closest available AED.


133 publicly-accessible AEDs

Now, a new province-wide registry of mobile defibrillators is up and running that could shave precious minutes off the time it takes to get an AED to someone in distress.

The AEDs are in government buildings, schools, health facilities, churches, community buildings, private businesses and private residences — 133 publicly-accessible machines were registered as of Feb. 21. 

When there's a cardiac emergency, medical dispatchers like Emily Thompson can find the location of the closest AED to the scene. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Here's how it works: When someone calls 911, an emergency dispatcher searches the registry for the closest available AED and tells the caller to send someone to get it. Some may be on the registry but unavailable if the building is closed.

Until the AED arrives, the dispatcher instructs the caller on how to do CPR.

'Very easy, user friendly'

When the AED arrives, the caller uses the machine's automatic "how-to" prompts, supported by the emergency dispatcher. 

"You can't go wrong with an AED. It will not allow you to shock somebody who cannot be shocked," said Landry.

"My children at four or five have learned how to use them, so they're very easy, user friendly."

The P.E.I. government has produced two videos to demonstrate how easy it is to use an AED.

The average ambulance response time was eight minutes and 52 seconds, as of December 2018, according to a government report, but responses in rural areas are generally longer, averaging more than 12 minutes in most rural areas. 

Hoping to add more AEDs to registry

Having an AED close by can bridge that gap in time.

While 133 machines is a good start, officials would like to see more mobile defibrillators registered. "We'd love to see them everywhere of course," said Landry. "The more, the merrier."

There are 11 schools with defibrillators on the registry now, and another 14 schools with one that aren't registered. The provincial government has promised all public schools will have one by May.

Schools across P.E.I. will all have AEDs by May, the province has announced, and teachers and staff will be trained on how to use them. (Laura Meader/CBC)

"If they could be as common as fire hydrants, that would be our vision," said James Sullivan, senior advisor on emergency health services, with the Department of Health and Wellness.

The registry is voluntary but Sullivan hopes those with unregistered AEDs will sign up, and that others will be purchased, especially in areas without one.

Accessing a machine after regular work hours can be a challenge, said Sarah Crozier, with the  Heart and Stroke Foundation of P.E.I. She hopes more businesses and community groups — especially ones open evenings and weekends — will buy an AED and register them to make them available to the public, through emergency dispatchers.

Back in the game

Six years after his cardiac arrest, White is still skating and organizing the games three times a week for men's senior hockey at Simmons.

Foster didn't know White at the time, but since his recovery, they've played several games together at Simmons.

"Ev's a pretty important guy to this group," said Foster. "It's nice to see him enjoying the group. He's a good guy!"

Goalie Gordie Foster and Ev White occasionally play together in the same men's senior hockey league. (Sally Pitt/CBC)

Foster recommends more people take the training on how to use an AED in case they're ever faced with that emergency.

He realizes the idea of using one might be intimidating. His advice: "Just be calm, go through the prompts ... and just let the machine do its work."

As for White, he's grateful there was an AED close by when he collapsed — grateful also that Foster knew how to use it — and  grateful to first responders, hospital staff and his family in helping with his recovery so that at 78, he can continue to lace up his skates. 

"I'm lucky to be here and I'm thankful for that," he said.

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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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