Donations boost "Power of Life" campaign

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff

Gary Smith knows what he wants under his Christmas tree, but it won't come wrapped up in a box with a red bow. It can only come when he has collected enough money to purchase Automated External Defibrillators for every school in Carter County.
   An account has been set up at Carter County Bank called "Power of Life" to collect donations. So far, $2,500 has been collected. Each dollar donated doubles since Mountain States Health Alliance will match each AED bought through "Power of Life."
   Charles Litterer donated $1,600 in memory of Smith's late mother, Glyna Litterer. Carter County Youth League also made a donation along with a get-well card, but other donations have been made privately.
   "I have had a lot of people tell me they are going to donate, but just haven't yet. I thought there would be more (donations), but after Christmas I think it will get better," said Smith. Right now he is "holding out and hoping."
   He added, "With the Christmas holiday at hand, I think most have their hands full with all of the extra tasks. I am hoping as the holidays settle down, that other individuals will throw in a helping hand. I have talked to a few businesses in the area, and hopefully they will help get Carter County on top of things as far as AED availability is concerned."
   Smith was refereeing a basketball game at Happy Valley Middle School on Nov. 17 when he suffered a massive heart attack during the fourth quarter. Luckily, several nurses and volunteer firefighters were in the stands and were able to immediately start cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
   The fans' combined rescue efforts and those of first responders with the West Carter County Fire Department saved Smith's life. According to his doctors, Smith would not have survived if CPR began any later or if his heart was not shocked back into a normal rhythm by the AED.
   According to the American Heart Association, in cities where defibrillation is provided within five to seven minutes, the survival rate from sudden cardiac arrest is as high as 49 percent. Another study showed that most survivors of a cardiac arrest did not suffer cognitive impairment, even if a relatively long time passed before a defibrillator was used to restore the heart beat.
   More than 1,200 people die from cardiac arrest each day in the U.S. before they can be admitted to a hospital. The survival rates vary widely depending on the geographic area, in part because of the time it takes for emergency personnel to reach victims. Many heart attack victims die before reaching the hospital.
   An electric shock to the heart is the only chance for survival. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation can only keep the heart pumping blood to the organs, but is very unlikely to start the heart beat into an acceptable rhythm. Because of these statistics, extensive efforts have been made to place AEDs in public places.
   "By donating to the 'Power of Life' you are helping someone have a better chance of surviving. You never know who that person might be," Smith said.
   AEDs are designed to be easy enough to use so that almost anyone can operate it. It voice prompts the commands, reads the patients heart rhythm, and shocks the patient with a touch of a button. If the heart rhythm can't be restored by shock, the machine will not administer it, a feature designed to protect the patient from unnecessary shock.
   According to the AHA, Ventricle fibrillation is an extremely fast and chaotic heart rhythm during which the heart's lower chambers quiver and don't pump and blood. AEDs diagnose heart rhythms, differentiating those that need a defibrillating shock from those that don't. The devices can be used by emergency responders or bystanders.
   Placing this life-saving equipment in schools will not only offer protection for an adult suffering from sudden cardiac arrest, but also save children over one year old.
   In the July 2003 edition of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, a study revealed that AEDs were safe to use on children as young as age one. Previously it was thought that children under age eight should only receive manual defibrillation at a hospital.
   Waiting for defibrillation at a hospital means precious minutes are lost which results in a dramatic decrease in the chance for survival. For every minute that defibrillation is delayed, survival decreases by seven percent to 10 percent. If it is delayed more than 12 minutes, the chance of survival for an adult is less than five percent.
   Although data on pediatric cardiac arrests is limited, the chances of it occurring are far less than for adults. But if an AED is available, the chain of survival can begin before emergency personnel arrive.
   Some AEDs are being manufactured with child-sized electrode pads to reduce the shock level administered.
   AEDs are quickly becoming common place in public settings such as, airports, theaters, college campuses, and sports stadiums.