If you see somebody collapse when you’re out in a public place, you probably already know you should call 000 and start chest compressions. But there’s one other important action that could help the person survive: send somebody to grab the nearest AED.
An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a device that can shock the heart, similar to those electrified paddles you’ve probably seen TV doctors use. Small, user-friendly versions are located in many public places, and they’re designed to be usable even by somebody who has little to no training.
They work because many cardiac arrests are the result of ventricular fibrillation. This means that the cells of the heart, instead of pumping at the same time like they’re supposed to, get out of sync. The heart quivers or vibrates instead of squeezing in strong pumps, and can’t effectively move blood around the body. A strong electric shock from an AED can restart the heart, and improves survival rates over CPR alone.
As the ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA) explained on its website:
"AEDs when used within the first 3-5 minutes of a person suffering a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) can dramatically increase a victims chance of survival from less 5% to as much as 70%. AEDs were designed to be used by virtually anyone with little or no experience."
Know where your nearest AED is
I make a mental note anytime I see an AED when I’m out and about. I know there’s one in my kid’s preschool, for example, right by the front door. They’re usually in a common area, easily accessible, and mounted in a place you’ll notice them. The AED Locator app has a map of AEDs, and you can add the ones you find. St John Ambulance Australia also has a web page where you can instantly see Public Access AED units in your area.
It’s also not a bad idea to ask at the front office of places where you spend a lot of time (work, school, etc) if they have an AED and where it is.
When it’s time to use the AED, remember to call 000 and begin chest compressions while somebody goes and gets the device.
Follow the directions
If you take a CPR class, you’ll probably get a chance to use a training version of an AED. The amazing thing, to me, was that you don’t have to remember exactly what to do — the machine speaks to you, and walks you through the steps you should take.
Among them: after you stick the electrodes onto the person’s body, the machine will “listen” to the heart’s electrical signals to figure out whether the person seems to be in ventricular fibrillation. If the machine detects a normal heartbeat, it won’t shock the person. So you don’t need to be sure of why the person collapsed; just attach the machine and let it do its thing.
Here is a full set of instructions, from the Red Cross. Note that it says an AED is for a “non-breathing child aged 8 or older who weighs more than 25kg, or an adult.” If the machine determines that the person needs a shock, you’ll make sure everyone is standing clear—nobody touching the person—and then push the button. After the shock, or if the machine does not recommend a shock, do CPR as usual.