Defibrillators have been much in the news over the last year. When professional footballer Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch in March last year because of cardiac arrest, it was the quick action of getting a defibrillator into use which was responsible for saving his life. Since then, it seems that there have been numerous similar incidents reported in the news. In fact, it is estimated that around 60,000 people suffer a cardiac arrest outside of hospital every year, with the survival rate being just 8%.
A defibrillator is an important piece of first aid equipment which delivers an electric shock with the aim of jumpstarting the heart back into life. The timely use of a defibrillator on Muamba didn’t just save his life, but it also reduced the chances of him developing brain damage due to a lack of oxygen. Any delay between collapse and the first shock given is the most crucial factor when it comes to determining survival. Prompt use of a defibrillator can give a survival rate of 75%, it has been reported, while with every minute without it, the chances of survival decrease from 7% to 10%.
In March this year, several high profile sporting figures, including Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard, Amir Khan, Ricky Hatton, Michael Owen and Kenny Dalglish, along with the Royal College of Paediatrics and the British Medical Association appealed to the Prime Minister for new legislation to ensure that every public building has access to an automatic external defibrillator (AED). This includes schools, leisure centres and football stadia.
This action came after a government e-petition received over 100,000 signatures following the death of 12-year-old Oliver King, who suffered cardiac arrest while swimming at school. The school’s sports first aid kits and equipment did not include a life-saving defibrillator.
First team doctor at Liverpool Football Club, Zafar Iqbal, likened the need for a defibrillator to that of a fire extinguisher: “12 to 16 young people die from a sudden cardiac arrest every week. In my view, just as we have access to a fire extinguisher in the event of a fire, AEDs should be immediately available if someone suffers a cardiac arrest.
“My wife used an AED to save my son’s life when he unfortunately suffered a cardiac arrest. The Oliver King Foundation deserve tremendous praise by ensuring the provision of an AED in every primary school in Liverpool.”
Of course, a defibrillator is not a fix-all solution. Although easy to use, first aiders at any school, leisure centre or sports ground should also receive medical equipment training to ensure that they know how to use it. The public, too, need to be made more aware of basic first aid procedures. Recently, the British Heart Foundation together with actor Vinny Jones and the ‘Staying Alive’ song raised awareness in the importance of performing CPR. In fact, when used alongside AED, CPR increases the survival rate by ten times – from 5% to 50%.
It remains to be seen whether the e-petition has any impact on defibrillator legislation.