'Every second counts': Stores mark 3rd save with AEDs
JANESVILLE A Blain's Farm & Fleet associate found the woman unresponsive in the plumbing aisle.
Someone called 911, while assistant store manager Keith Brown started CPR and Barry Suchomel, also an assistant manager, went to get the automated external defibrillator machine.
Manager Nicholas Shores helped the team set up the AED, which indicated that the customer needed a shock to help restore a normal heart rhythm, he said. After applying a shock, the managers continued chest compressions until Janesville paramedics arrived about a minute later. The paramedics took over and administered medication.
"You never think you'll ever have to use it," Shores said of the AED. "When it was that time, your heart's racing, but you know you have a task to do."
The computerized AEDs in each of the 35 Blain's Farm & Fleet stores sat unused for five years.
In the last six months, however, the devices have helped save three lives, including the woman last month in Janesville. The other incidents involved a store associate who was three weeks from retirement at a store in Ottawa, Ill., in July and a grandmother shopping with her husband and grandkids at the Watertown store in October.
The American Heart Association in Wisconsin recently recognized the Janesville employees with the Heart Saver Hero Award. Blain's AED program and the company's ongoing fight against heart disease are saving lives, said Tom Luedtke, director of the state heart association.
"More than 160,000 Americans experience out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrests each year," he said in a statement. "Only an estimated 6 percent of them survive. American Heart Association research has shown us that immediate CPR and early defibrillation using an AED can more than double a victim's chance of survival."
An AED checks a person's heart rhythm and recognizes whether the heart needs a shock. The machine uses voice prompts, lights and text messages to tell rescuers what to do. The machines are easy to use and accurate, according to the heart association.
Despite the life-saving benefits of AEDs, they are usually only available in places where large numbers of people gather.
The city of Janesville has 14 devices, including at City Hall, the library, senior center, ice arena and sports facilities, Janesville Fire Chief Jim Jensen said. He wasn't sure how many were available in privately owned public places, but the number has been increasing, he said.
Blain also just donated a machine to the Janesville Area Performing Arts Center.
Most retailers don't have the machines, according to the AED supplier that Farm & Fleet uses, said Jane Blain Gilbertson, co-owner of Blain Supply and Blain's Farm and Fleet stores.
"No other national or regional chain that they knew of in the country puts these in all its stores," she said.
Research has shown that cardiac deaths are highest in December and January, including spikes during the Christmas/New Year's period.
"There's just a lot of factors that make this a very stressful time of year," Jensen said.
Sometimes, by the time Janesville paramedics arrive, the patient's heartbeat is restored to a somewhat regular rhythm using an AED, Jensen said. But that's not common—maybe six to eight times a year, he estimated.
"Every second counts out there," he said.
Brain damage begins to occur within four minutes, and the sooner CPR and defibrillation are done in the field, the less damage is likely to occur, he said. About six minutes is the average time it takes paramedics from dispatch to arrival, Jensen said.
"That's why it's so important that bystanders can assist. It definitely increases the chances of survival," he said.
While Blain Gilbertson doesn't advocate for more government mandates, she encourages other businesses to make the investment.
"It may be themselves," she said. "If not a customer, it could be an associate."
A machine costs about $1,500, and staff must have regular training. A business interested in buying an AED can contact the Janesville Fire Department for more information.
While the company has long had a corporatewide focus on raising money for the American Heart Association, Blain's AED program started seven to eight years ago after a distribution center employee died of a heart attack. The death got staff talking about AEDs, and soon management teams at each store were trained on the new machines.
The only maintenance is updating batteries. Having the machine gives employees confidence that if anything happens, they have the tools to make a difference, Blain Gilbertson said.
"What's a life worth? Now we have three of them," she said.