Defibrillators could save many in state buildings

Posted: December 13, 2001

Important legislation that was approved Monday by the Assembly and Senate and that would require the placement of defibrillators in state buildings could save an untold number of lives from sudden cardiac arrest.

The American Heart Association has called sudden cardiac arrest a "major unresolved public health issue." At least 220,000 Americans die from sudden cardiac arrest annually.

We refer to sudden cardiac arrest as a "major unresolved public health issue" because the survival rate is barely 5 percent.

Sudden cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack, and it can strike anyone at any age. Most people experiencing sudden cardiac arrest suffer from a deadly heart arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation.

The key to surviving sudden cardiac arrest is the American Heart Association's "chain of survival": early 911, early cardiopulmonary resuscitation, early defibrillation, and early advanced care.

The critical "link" in the chain is early defibrillation, or an electrical shock with an automated external defibrillator to restart the heart.

Early defibrillation must take place within five minutes of cardiac arrest. But before March 1999, defibrillators were rarely available or arrived to the emergency too late.

On March 8, 1999, then-Gov. Christie Whitman signed into law New Jersey's legislation on public access to defibrillation, which allows anyone who has had proper training to administer lifesaving defibrillation.

Perhaps most important, the law provides Good Samaritan protection from lawsuits for people who use a defibrillator to try to save a life.

Since March 1999, New Jersey has taken major strides to improve the chance of surviving sudden cardiac arrest. Hundreds of New Jersey companies, retail stores and public places now have defibrillator programs.

At least 11 major New Jersey shopping malls have defibrillator programs, as well as more than 40 New Jersey golf courses. And more than 160 New Jersey police departments have defibrillator programs.

The passage of Assembly Bill 2873 and Senate Bill 1584 could allow New Jersey to make monumental, rather than incremental, progress toward improving the survival rate from cardiac arrest.

State buildings and facilities that will receive defibrillators include Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike rest stops; Department of Motor Vehicle Services buildings; state parks, beaches and museums; more than 240 train, bus and ferry terminals; state courts; the PNC Bank Arts Center; Newark International Airport; Meadowlands Raceway; the New Jersey State Aquarium; Giants Stadium; and Monmouth Park Raceway.

The American Heart Association urges the governor to sign the defibrillator legislation into law as soon as possible.

Charles Dennis is a cardiologist and the immediate past president of the Heritage affilliate of the American Heart Association, which serves New Jersey, Connecticut, and part of New York.

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