Author: Claudia Guarnaccia
In the year of 1990, Kerry Packer was playing polo at Warwick Farm in Sydney. He suffered a cardiac arrest (ie he was unconscious and not breathing – his heart had stopped) and was declared clinically dead for seven minutes. The responding Ambulance arrived, fortunately carrying a defibrillator, which at the time was quite rare. Kerry’s life was saved by the actions of all, including the use of a defibrillator.
What is defibrillators and role of defibrillators? A defibrillator is a piece of equipment that uses electricity to attempt to re-start the heart or ‘shock’ it back to its correct rhythm. During a cardiac arrest, the heart suddenly stops pumping. A defibrillator’s job is to analyse the heart rhythm and to determine whether a shock is needed.
Kerry Packer, in partnership with the NSW Government, funded defibrillators to be fitted to all NSW Ambulances in the early 1990’s. They are commonly known as “Packer Wackers”.
Moving to 2020, defibrillators aren’t exclusive to Hospitals and Ambulances, but are designed to be used by the general public without prior training or qualifications. These types of defibrillators are referred to as AED’s or Automated External Defibrillators. The technology in AED’s are to support bystanders help save a life.
Defibrillators are safe and easy to use.
There are different brands of defibrillators on the market with differing design features and price points, however, they all do the same thing. They will provide you with clear voice instructions, a metronome beat to keep a good rate of CPR and visual aids on how to use.
It’s important to note that one cannot misuse a defibrillator – the general public should not fear using one when someone is in cardiac arrest.
When the defibrillator is placed on a person’s chest it analyses the heart rhythm to determine if the person is in Ventricular Fibrillation (or cardiac arrest). If cardiac arrest is occurring, it will provide a shock in order to ‘kick start’ the heart back to its healthy beating rhythm. If this does occur, the person will be able to commence breathing on their own – if the person is not in that rhythm, it will not provide a shock.
The defibrillator further begins to time two-minute cycles to support the rescuers to perform CPR. Some defibrillators have CPR feedback to provide greater advice to the rescuer (eg push harder, push faster). At the end of each two-minute cycle, the machine will repeat the analysis of the heart and again, if the person remains in cardiac arrest will provide a shock. If a shock is not required, the rescuers will need to continue performing CPR.
If the person’s heart is restarted, they will begin to show signs of consciousness. Keeping in mind they will not be in great shape, but it is of high importance to keep them calm and place them in the recovery position. You must monitor them closely, and leave the pads on the person’s chest – only remove at the instructions of Ambulance personnel. As the person can go back into cardiac arrest, you must follow the same instructions as previously outlined.
Role of Defibrillators – In summary:
- Defibrillators are attempting to shock the heart back to its normal beating rhythm
- They provide support to rescuers for CPR
- They provide a metronome to keep a good rate of compression (i.e. 100-120 compressions a minute)
- Some models provide CPR feedback to provide rescuers with advice to push harder or faster/slower.
- All defibrillators are supplied with a rescue kit to support their use. It includes gloves, a CPR Mask, razor (to minimise chest hair for men), scissors to cut clothing, etc).
- They provide step by step instructions through basic life support
- They provide voice and some visual prompts on what to do
This is a stressful situation, so call 000 as early as possible & even when you hear the Ambulance, continue CPR and using the defibrillator until guided by Paramedics
Anyone can access and use a defibrillator! This is not restricted to first aiders or medically trained persons.
For more information, contact the Michael Hughes Foundation, or visit our Knowledge Centre to access our educational materials and fact sheets.