In April, a client at the New Castle YMCA experienced a coronary incident while using the facility.
Although staff was quick to respond, in using the Automated External Defibrillator on hand they learned that technology had surpassed their unit and that the electrocardiogram information — the display of the patient's heartbeat — could not be easily downloaded by responding emergency crews or physicians at the hospital.
The patient received the necessary care and is expected to make a full recovery — and the YMCA began to look into replacing its aged AED unit.
"Fortunately, we already had in motion the plan to provide AEDs to several community agencies," said Charlane Verdi, director of staff and community education for UPMC Jameson Hospital.
According to the American Heart Association, an automated external defibrillator is a portable device that delivers an electric shock through the chest to the heart. The shock can potentially stop an irregular heart beat and allow a normal rhythm to resume.
The Junior Guild of UPMC Jameson, Verdi said, made a $5,000 donation to be used to purchase AED units for local community agencies. With the assistance of Cheryl Rickens, a UPMC EMS specialist who manages the AED program and is a registered nurse, the donation went further than anticipated. Generally, Rickens said, one unit costs about $3,000. Due to her connections with a "master vendor," she said she was able to "stretch the money and get the most for the dollar" and obtain four units.
"We're glad that our Junior Guild was able to make this happen," Verdi said.
Yesterday, units were presented to the Y-Zone in Neshannock Township, the downtown Y, Vocational and Psychological Services and Mount Jackson Presbyterian Church.
In addition, Rickens provided training on how to use the new units to Y trainer Brittany Vastawniak and Maria McKee, CEO of the Y, Eric Verdi of Vocational and Psychological Services and Georgeanne Cvetan of Mount Jackson Presbyterian Church.
She noted that the units are easy to operate.
Each unit includes a built-in computer that checks a patient's heart rhythm through adhesive electrodes that must be applied to the person's chest. The computer calculates if defibrillation — an electric shock — is needed. If so, a recorded voice prompts the responder to stand clear of the patient and press the shock button on the unit. The shock stuns the heart and stops all activity, giving the heart time to resume normal beating.
Audible prompts guide the user through the process.
An accompanying prep kit contains a plastic mask and latex gloves for CPR, a razor to shave hairy-chested patients before the device can be placed directly on the person's skin, and charts showing where the electrode-containing pads should be applied. The kit includes pads for adults and another set for children. Rickens noted that heart attacks in children are rare.
She noted that the computer of the unit automatically recharges itself daily. When all is well, she said, a green light flashes. If there is a problem, including weak batteries, "it beeps like a smoke detector so someone is alerted that action must be taken," she said.
Rickens said she has provided training for the past 12 years.
"I am an advocate for UPMC's outreach program," she said. "I frequently go to agencies and churches and ask how can I help. We get them set up with units and be sure someone is trained on how to operate them."
Rickens reminded the agency representatives that the AEDs generally have a 10- to 15-year life expectancy. She said they should keep track of their apparatus and start to consider setting aside funds or obtaining grants to replace the unit as it approaches the end of its useful life. In addition, she noted, batteries are good for about four years and the electrode pads are good for about two and one-half years before they should be replaced.