Halifax woman runs defibrillator to a patient in need, with help from registry

When Shelley Burgess-Butler registered her building’s automated external defibrillators (AEDs) as public, she hoped she’d never have to use them.

But on Jan. 11, she got a call from Emergency Health Services with a location and instructions to deliver the AED as quickly as possible, as someone’s life was in danger. She grabbed the life-saving device from the wall near her office and dashed several blocks to the address.

She arrived just before the paramedics, who were able to take over from there.

“It was a little panicky, but I had a little bit of time on my run up there to start thinking about the situation and know what I would do if I needed to,” she told Global News.

An AED is a portable device that will shock the heart to restore normal rhythms in the event of a heart attack or cardiac arrest. In 2017, EHS launched Nova Scotia’s AED registry, a database that connects first responders and the public to the nearest available AED.

But not all AEDs on the registry are available for public use — some of them are listed as private, which means EHS can’t call on them to save someone nearby.

Burgess-Butler said her experience is evidence of the benefits of public registration and, looking at the registry map, said Halifax could use a few more downtown.

“I really do believe that if I can help save a life by having these AEDs dispatched publicly rather than just keeping them in-house, the better off everyone is,” she explained.

“Definitely, the more we have registered (publicly), the chances are somebody would have been closer. Could have next door, could have been across the street — instead, I was a few blocks away.”

Her cousin-in-law, Marc Butler of Bedford N.S., agreed. In 2016, an AED saved his life when he had a heart attack on a soccer field “in pretty much the middle of nowhere.” But it wasn’t a registered AED, he said in an interview, and he had to wait for first responders.

“It may take 15 minutes for an ambulance to come when it could take someone a minute-and-a-half to cross the street,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter whose life it is, as long as (the AED) is there to save a life. If it’s just sitting there collecting dust, why not put it on a registry?”

Since the registry’s launch in 2017, Emergency Health Services AED Registry co-ordinator Mike Janczyszyn said the number of registered AEDs in the province has tripled to more than 800 devices. He said while some folks express apprehension around using the devices for fear of causing harm to a patient, all AEDs come with simple, step-by-step oral instructions that anyone can follow.

No training is required, and the AED will only instruct an operator to shock a patient if it detects that heart is in a rhythm that defibrillation can correct.

“We’re not just bringing AEDs to the scenes, we’re also bringing more people who can help out with CPR and any other kind of situational need at that time. And realistically, it’s all about time. Time is of the essence in these emergency situations,” he said.

February is Heart Month, which raises awareness of the importance of cardiovascular health.

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