Story and photos by Jim Brown
That’s roughly how long a person can live without medical intervention after a sudden cardiac arrest.
In PEI’s largest urban centres, Summerside and Charlottetown, the average response time for ambulances is nine minutes.
The problem for many rural Islanders, including those living in the Resort Municipality of Cavendish where councillor Chris Robinson resides, is that it can take up to half an hour or even longer for an ambulance to arrive.
“We’re a lovely rural area of the province, but we’re almost equidistant between Prince County Hospital and the QEH in Charlottetown. We’re almost as far away from those two facilities as you can be, short of being in Tignish,” he said.
“Defibrillators are key. If you don’t have access to a defibrillator within the first 10 minutes or so after a sudden cardiac arrest, your odds of surviving are only about five per cent,” said Chris, who also chairs the Resort Municipality of Cavendish’s emergency services committee.
Chris has taken the need for defibrillators to heart, and is offering access to the one at his house on 8537 Cavendish Road, across from Captain Kidd’s Dairy Bar and Take-out. His mission to spread awareness and potentially save lives is shared by his wife Stephanie Scharf, who is a registered nurse supervisor and a registered massage therapist, working from her home clinic.
Chris wants people to know one is there if they need it. If they can get there he will help them hook up to it.
“If people wish I would be prepared to go out as a first responder in an emergency if people had chest pains and were waiting for an ambulance. They can call my cell phone, which is 628-9831.”
Chris went on to say “we want to make sure local residents are aware that waiting for an ambulance for half an hour, particularly in stormy weather with icy roads, is not a feasible proposition. You only have eight to 10 minutes in the case of a full sudden, cardiac arrest when the heart is stopped. You only have that 10 minute window, so being prepared and knowing where to find the nearest AED is an important precaution to take, just as people should be checking their smoke detectors this time of year and having a fire escape plan in case their house catches fire.”
The Cavendish Resort Municipality has several publicly accessible AEDs. There is one at the municipal office, but the office is only open during regular business hours. There are also several other AEDs available at local businesses, which are only available during certain hours and certain times of the year.
Chris says it’s a also good idea for anyone who might be at risk of a heart attack to carry orange flavoured 80 milligram aspirin, which can be very effective.
“You don’t swallow them, but hold them in your mouth under your tongue and the large blood vessels under your tongue will allow the aspirin to dissolve quickly in your blood…and may make the difference while the ambulance is in route or until you can get to a defibrillator.”
Chris’s defibrillator was bought for personal use for about $1,000, but he decided “why just keep it for my own selfish use when others in an emergency may need it.”
In one of her AED community presentations Stephanie stated “I am speaking to you today as a member of the community who owns an AED for personal use…This topic is especially concerning for me since I have a family history of heart disease and I live in a rural setting, which means slower emergency response times.”
Every year more than 45,000 Canadians suffer from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).
“Of those SCA that happen outside a hospital, less than five per cent survive due to delays in recognizing the cardiac emergency and access to appropriate care such as CPR and an AED…The survival rate from sudden cardiac arrest without CPR and AED is zero,” she states in her presentation.
Stephanie says using an AED with CPR within the first three minutes of a cardiac arrest can boost the chance of survival by up to 75 per cent.
Chris says anyone in the Cavendish area experiencing a heart attack after calling 911 to get the ambulance on its way, can give him a call and hopefully find someone to drive them to his house within 10 minutes.
Canada has a very poor survival rate for cardiac arrest, only about five per cent.
“It’s largely because of very poor awareness and access to defibrillators on a timely basis,” said Chris.
One other thing he thinks would make a big difference to improve emergency response times in PEI would be for Health PEI to implement a PulsePoint Network of volunteer first responders, who would receive early notification of a nearby emergency on their Smartphone.
“This PulsePoint app has been shown to have a significant impact in improving survival odds for cardiac arrest. Volunteer first responders such as off duty nurses, firefighters, police (and others) can respond to the scene of a cardiac arrest by phone notification and they can stabilize the patient before the ambulance arrives.” he said.
“Saving minutes can save a life.”