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Life-saving defibrillators protect campus community

U of T Scarborough is enjoying a new level of safety since recently adding four Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) to its array of emergency equipment.

If a person’s heart stops on campus due to a heart attack or medical condition, a portable AED — which is about the size of a laptop — could reach her minutes before an ambulance, and possibly save her life.

“When a heart stops beating, time is of the essence. If a defibrillator shock can be delivered within the first few minutes, there’s a really good chance that the heart can restart without long-term damage,” said Chris Moy, acting manager of U of T Scarborough’s community police services. “These machines greatly increase a person’s chance of survival, and we’re very glad to have them available because they could save someone’s life.”

The defibrillators are “Automated” because they instruct the user on what to do via an audio message, and can thus be used even by an untrained bystander. When placed on a person’s bare chest, the AED checks for a heart rate abnormality. If a beating heart is detected, the machine will not allow the user to administer a shock. After the check, it instructs the user on whether or not to press the button that delivers a shock.

“This machine takes any guess-work out of a very stressful situation.” Moy said. “It literally talks the users through the process, and they will hear vocal instructions such as ‘‘attach the pads.” 

Although the defibrillators greatly improve the chance of restarting the heart and can potentially be used by anyone, officials say they do not completely eliminate the need for trained emergency specialists on the scene. Severe cases still require someone trained in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation — such as the campus police or the Emergency Medical Response Group (EMRG), a first aid team run by students.

“These new defibrillators are a real asset when used as part of an overall approach delivered by someone who is also trained in emergency procedures and CPR,” said Rosalie Sinanan, the executive director of the EMRG and a fifth-year French, history and political science student. “If we need to revive someone in cardiac arrest with no vital signs, we’ll want that defibrillator on site as fast as possible, because the combination of both CPR and the AED is more likely to save that person’s life.”

The four defibrillators are maintained at various locations around the campus to increase their accessibility. One is carried by an EMRG member on duty, one is kept in the police emergency response vehicle, and the remaining two are housed in the police and EMRG offices.

When the campus purchased the defibrillators, it also opted to participate in a best practices program on their use, offered by the City of Toronto’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) through its Cardiac Safe City Program, said Moy.  “This involves not just training on AEDs, but also the entire program of medical oversight, follow-up after use, and maintenance monitoring to ensure that the equipment is always ready when needed. We’re proud to be participating in this recommended program and following a process that we and the city believe provides optimum safety training.”

The EMRG group has more than 50 students trained as volunteers and serves the campus 24 hours a day. At least three members are always on duty — its office is even furnished with bunk beds. Members are trained in CPR through Toronto EMS and all have their AED Responder Qualification. When someone on campus calls 9-1-1, the campus police are notified and will contact EMRG in the case of a medical emergency.

 “The EMRG members play a very valuable role on campus, and the defibrillators give them another way to help,” Moy said.

Although the AEDs have been taken along to various emergency response calls since the beginning of the school year, they have not yet needed to be used, Sinanen said. Still, she said she believes they are a good investment that provides peace of mind. “Hopefully we won’t need to use them often, but I believe a day will come when we’ll be very glad that we had them on site.”

Each defibrillator costs about $3,500, which Moy said is money well spent.

“This is another step forward in our efforts to serve the community,” Moy said. “It helps us be better able to respond to medical emergencies when they do happen.”

Shayla Duval is a fourth-year student in the joint journalism program offered by U of T Scarborough and Centennial College.

© University of Toronto Scarborough