In the past two months I have read three newspaper accounts of teenage athletes in the Tampa area who have gone into cardiac arrest while playing basketball, whose lives were saved through the quick use of an Automated External Defibrilator (AED). I am not a doctor, but as I understand it, when a person has a heart attack, a lot of chaos ensues in the heart and ultimately the heart can stop working if it is not brought back into normal rhythm. An AED stops the heart for a split second so that the brain can start the heart breathing again in proper rhythm. Cardiac arrest and severe heart attack are not limited to our senior citizens. They can happen to people of all ages.
Our parish of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa decided to purchase one of these at a cost of $1,800. After the device was delivered, 10 of us participated in a three hour training session on how to use one of these devices. We found out just how easy it is to use one. To put it bluntly, these things are "idiot proof." The machine tells exactly what to do, including where to place pads on the chest and includes scissors for quick clothing removal and a razor that will shave the area for the pads in seconds. If an electric shock is needed, it will be delivered by the machine. If it is not needed, the machine will instruct the user to begin CPR. It will even count 30 beats for proper chest compressions and tell you when to breathe into the airway of the victim. It is extremely easy to use.
During the training, we also learned how critical it is for an AED to be employed within 4 minutes of a cardiac arrest or severe heart attack. EMS (the fire department) response time in Tampa is 3.5 minutes on average but only once they have been called. So by the time someone realizes a heart attack is happening, calls 911, 911 dispatches the fire department and they arrive on scene, 8-10 minutes may have passed. We learned that in a cardiac arrest situation, there is an 80 percent survival rate if defibrilation is employed within four minutes -- that means, if the heart is restarted to its normal rhythm. After that, the chances of survival drop 10 percent each minute -- without defibrillation in approximately eleven minutes of cardiac arrest, a person will die. So, in a big city like Tampa, the fire department will be on scene in 8-10 minutes. You more than double a person's chances for survival if your church has an AED that can be on them in under four minutes. In asking my Parish to purchase one of these devices, I told them, "How foolish would we feel if we needed one of these things and didn't have it, because we were too cheap to spend $1,800 to potentially save someone's life."
Our churches bring hundreds of people together for worship, for coffee hour, for our festivals, for receptions and dinner dances, for dance groups and basketball practice, for Bible study and pastoral counseling, for choir practice and for meetings. Many churches have had parishioners suffer fatal heart attacks while on church grounds. Don't we owe it to ourselves and our people to offer them the best possible chance for survival, especially since it only costs $1,800 to do so? I encourage every Orthodox parish and institution in this country (especially our remotely located summer camps), to purchase and have people trained on an AED. To borrow from the credit card commercials: The cost of saving a human life--$1,800. The value of a human life -- priceless.
Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL and the Director of St. Stephen's Summer Camp.