In the UK it is now commonplace to see portable defibrillators (also known as AEDs) in public places such as supermarkets, village halls and community centres. This clever device was invented by a Northern Ireland physician named Frank Partridge. Pantridge was in the army during WWII, later joining Queen’ University as a lecturer working in the pathology department. He also studied in the US where he studied electrocardiography.
When he returned to his home country he set up a specialist cardiology unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast. With another colleague, Dr Geddess he developed the modern CPR system for use in cardiac arrests. He was also aware that many patients were dying from ventricular fibrillation (where the lower chambers of the heart, the ventricles, contract rapidly and uncontrollably) before they could be treated in a hospital. Partridge realised that a mobile unit (MCCU) would save lives outside of the hospital environment and by 1965 the first portable defibrillator was put into an ambulance in 1965. The first device was heavy and bulky, relying on car batteries. However, various improvements were made and by the late 1960’s the device weighed just 3kg. However, nationally uptake was slow and it was not until the 1990s that front-line UK ambulances carried AEDs as standard.
The advent of TV medical dramas such as Casualty in the UK and Grey’ Anatomy in the US meant that the general public was more aware of difbrillation as scenes of a crash team in action makes for stimulating and exciting TV. Finally the AED device has been refined so that it is simple enough for medically-untrained people to us. This device is the AED that we see on display today.
A study by Johns Hopkins Medicine into how many lives are saved when defibrillators are placed in public spaces showed that survival rates doubled. they estimated that use of AEDs placed in public places could save over 500 lives in the US and Canada. The recommendation is that AEDs should be installed as standard equipment in public spaces such as shopping centres, community centres, aiports and hotels. at their presentation to the American Heart Association into a landmark series of studies known as the Resuscitation Outcomes Consortium, they estimated that of the 300,000 plus propel that die from sudden cardiac death in the US, over 500 could be saved if a good Samaritan used an AED to restart their heart.
Their recommendation is clear. Installing AEDs should be as commonplace as the installation of fire extinguishers, smoke and burglar alarms. Each device costs about £3000 and has easy-to-follow onscreen instructions. This small devices can double survival rates when a victim suffers sudden cardiac arrest of ventricular defibrillation.