Monday Medical: Get to know AEDs like your ABCs

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Are you trained? Yampa Valley Medical Center will offer a free introductory class on how to use an AED Thursday from 5 to 6 p.m. YVMC offers five levels of CPR certification classes each month. Visit www.yvmc.org and check the event calendar for a class convenient for you.

Last February, several employees at Steamboat Ski Area read about automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, in the Steamboat Today Monday Medical article, "The Heart's Chain of Survival."

They signed up to take Yampa Valley Medical Center's free AED class offered in recognition of American Heart Month. Their participation in an hour-long class someday could prove to be life-saving.

Smaller communities such as Steamboat Springs increase one's odds of surviving a cardiac emergency. This is because the key to saving someone's life is time. It's what medical experts refer to as the "chain of survival."

There are four links in the chain of survival:

- Early EMS (Emergency Medical System) - call 911 for assistance

- Early CPR - deliver oxygen to the body's vital organs

- Early defibrillation - using an AED

- Early advanced cardiac life support - from medical professionals

Steps one and four in the chain take place more quickly in this community. Although response times vary, there is less ground to cover here than in larger cities.

"We are fortunate that our emergency response is so quick in our town," Certified CPR/AED Instructor Frederica Manning said. "They are so well-trained - so good at what they do."

Steps two and three: Begin CPR, and use an AED if it is available. Again Steamboat Springs is very fortunate. CPR and AED training is available at Yampa Valley Medical Center every month. Colorado Mountain College also provides six or seven classes throughout the year.

An AED is an easy-to-use portable device that analyzes a heart rhythm during a cardiac emergency. In many cases, it can shock a heart back to its normal rhythm.

Manning said AEDs are designed to be user-friendly.

"The AED talks you through the process step by step," she said. "They have tried to make them simple enough that people won't be afraid to use them."

Last June, NBC News correspondent Tim Russert suffered a fatal heart attack while at his office in New York City. There was a question as to whether his life could have been saved had an AED been retrieved and applied sooner. For every minute that passes without defibrillation, the chances for survival decrease by 7 to 10 percent.

Of course, all Steamboat Springs emergency vehicles carry defibrillators, and several public places also have AEDs. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment expects that organizations with AEDs have staff trained to use them.

Steamboat Ski Area leads the community in the number of AEDs (14) and also has ample certified staff.

There are several occasions when Steamboat Ski Patrol has saved a life because of having an AED minutes or even seconds away. Several AEDs with public access are located in all three on-mountain restaurants and the Information Center in Gondola Square. Patrollers always are ready to respond. However, anyone certified in CPR also is trained to use an AED.

Because Steamboat Ski Area is visited by thousands daily, it makes perfect sense to have so many AEDs available.

"Any public building with a high number of people traffic should have one on the premises," said Manning. "Even large businesses may consider having one."

Old Town Hot Springs and Howelsen Hill have AEDs, as does each school in the Steamboat Springs School District. Yampa Valley Medical Center has several on its campus.

Catamount Ranch & Club has one at the golf club and one at the Lake House. Yampa Valley Regional Airport has two in the terminal and two more with its emergency response teams.

Even if one is not trained, recognizing where AEDs are located and retrieving one when needed could help save a life. Convenient access to an AED and activation of the chain of survival is not a guarantee for saving a life; however, it offers the best chance.

Compared to many locations, healthy, active and educated communities such as Steamboat Springs are more prepared to deal with cardiac emergencies.

Riley Polumbus is communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at riley.polumbus@yvmc.org

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