If you site google “defibrillator” on lds.org, the first hit you’ll likely get is from last April when Elder Stevenson spoke at BYU–Hawaii’s commencement. As part of his talk, he mentioned the perseverance and courage of the inventor of the defibrillator.
“In developing the defibrillator, Dr. Bernard Lown dreaded failure or self-discredit, Bishop Stevenson said. Dr. Lown called his invention ‘a wild guess,’ but the good that it could do in the healthcare industry was so important that Dr. Lown took that risk, Bishop Stevenson said. Ultimately, the defibrillator has changed the way cardiology is practiced. He quoted Dr. Lown, who said, ‘[If] you don’t take that chance, you won’t fulfill your destiny.'” (LDS Church News).
Besides the inspiring story of perseverance behind the invention, what else do you need to know? I’ve gathered together some very basic information from reputable sources—
1. If my Church has one, where is it?
It should be mounted on the wall in the hallway, similar to how fire extinguishers are displayed. It should be clearly labeled “AED”. At my Church, it’s right next to the library. If you walk through the main hallway of your Church, it should be obvious where it is. Additionally, some states have AED databases, so the 911 operator might be able to tell you where the nearest AED is. Still, it’s best to find out before you need it. When in doubt, ask your bishop if your building has one.
2. What is an automated external defibrillator (AED)?
It is a device that will shock the heart when it is experiencing certain types of irregular rhythms that are life-threatening. The image below explains it in a simple way. If someone’s heart is experiencing these types of rhythms, it will usually stop beating at all very soon. You don’t need to be able to recognize these rhythms; the machine will do it.
3. When to use it
You can read more about when to use it at NIH or the Red Cross, but the important thing for an untrained person to remember is that if a person is unconscious or seems to be having Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), get the AED and follow the instructions. The device will decide whether or not a shock is advisable. Some types of heart problems are not helped by shocking, and the AED recognizes it, and won’t deliver the shock if you push the button.
4. Every minute counts
Once someone is experiencing a SCA, the heart needs to be shocked as quickly as possible. Every passing minute lowers their chance of survival by about 10%. Even if the paramedics or police respond within minutes of a 911 call, using the defibrillator will increase survival chances dramatically. Considering that the Red Cross reports average response time to a 911 call as 8-10 minutes, it’s important to be willing to use a defibrillator, even if you don’t feel qualified.
5. You can do it
It sounds super intimidating to shock the heart of someone, but if someone is dying, you need to take courage. A fact from this awesome Deseret News article might help calm your fears: “Since their introduction in the 1950s, AEDs have become smaller, simpler and basically foolproof; in one study, sixth graders mastered them quickly and easily.” A sixth grader can do it. So can you!
6. Still call 911 immediately and administer CPR
In the most likely scenario for using a AED at an LDS Church, there will be other people there. Have someone call 911, someone else go get the AED, and someone begin CPR if appropriate. If you send someone to call 911, tell them to come back and report to you. Sometimes a person who is feeling shocked by the situation will not be thinking clearly, and may not follow through on calling. Luckily, everyone has cell phones these days, so it probably won’t be a problem. They can call while standing right next to you.
Don’t know how to perform CPR? The Red Cross offers classes; or there are videos with some basic information. Even if you’ve never learned a thing about it, the 911 operator will give you instructions.
7. The AED will talk you through it
Unless the device is an old model, it will actually talk to you. Here’s a short video from the company (HeartSine) that supplied the AED that is at my Church meetinghouse.
8. It needs to be applied on bare skin
Any clothing should be cut away. No one would logically worry about modesty when there’s a life on the line, but your thinking might not be clear if you’re stressed or injured yourself. Don’t hesitate to cut through any clothing and underclothing covering the chest. There should be scissors and/or a razor with the AED for removing clothing and heavy chest hair.
9. The shock isn’t like on TV
According to Deseret News and the HeartSine video, the shock will make the chest twitch. The whole body won’t flail violently like on TV medical dramas.
10. Good Samaritan laws help protect you
From the NIH website page on AEDs: “Some people are afraid to use an AED to help save someone’s life. They’re worried that something might go wrong and that they might be sued. However, Good Samaritan laws in each State and the Federal Cardiac Arrest Survival Act (CASA) provide some protection for untrained bystanders who respond to emergencies.”
11. Have AEDs been used at any LDS Churches?
12. Is there an AED certification class you can take?
Why yes, there is. I ran a search on the Red Cross site, and the next class I could take locally would be on November 12th from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm. It would cost $90. Successful completion of this class would leave me certified in First Aid, CPR, and using the AED. There are also some online options, but I think you still have to pass off a few things in person.
Remember, you don’t need to be certified to use an AED, but classes and certification are available.
13. Outcomes are uncertain
The chances that you’ll ever need to use an AED at Church are extremely low. Still, it doesn’t hurt to remember that even if you do everything perfectly, the paramedics arrive quickly, and the hospital does everything possible, the person might still die. Hopefully knowing this beforehand will help you feel peace, knowing you did all you could.