Newark home remodeler Samuel Gary isn’t sure why he was lucky enough to survive a 2009 heart attack.
“It wasn’t anything I did, or how good I was,” he said recently. “But the good Lord brought me back for some reason, and I’m very, very thankful I got to see my grandkids grow up.
“I’ve got 16 of them and six great-grandkids.”
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans, responsible for nearly one out of every four deaths (595,444 of 2,465,936, 24.1 percent) in 2010, according to the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Yet interviews conducted in recent months suggest that if a heart attack is unavoidable, Wise County is a pretty good place to have one, thanks to the availability, skill and resources of area first responders and hospitals.
“Our [emergency] response time in Wise County is awesome,” said Billy Newsom, athletic trainer at Bridgeport High School. “Mr. Dillard [Charles Dillard, Wise County Emergency Medical Service administrator] does a great job.”
Gary’s life was saved by volunteers with the Newark Fire Department who responded to a 911 call at his home.
Chief James Edgemon, Assistant Chief Jerry Taylor, 1st Capt. Mark Killough, 1st Lt. William Terry and 2nd Lt. Justin Davis used both cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and an automated external defibrillator (AED) to restore the man’s heartbeat and breathing before an ambulance took him to Wise Regional Health System’s cardiac catheterization lab in Decatur.
In late September, first responders from the Decatur Police Department, Decatur Fire Department and county EMS also used CPR and AEDs to save the life of John Conrad of Bridgeport when he had a heart attack at Decatur’s Walmart store.
The addition of the AED to the first responders’ lifesaving toolbox has made a big difference in the number of happy reunions like the one Gary had two years ago with the Newark firemen who received Lifesaver Awards for their actions.
“When you see something like this, it makes you feel good about what you do,” Taylor, the Newark assistant chief, said at the 2009 ceremony. “We do this job for a reason.”
A 2008 survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that fewer than 5 percent of those suffering cardiac arrest lived to be discharged from a hospital.
But a Medicare study showed survival rate for cardiac arrest when CPR is administered was as high as 18 percent.
CPR is considered a first step in treatment of people who have had a heart attack, which occurs when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked.
CPR acts to preserve brain function until further means are taken to restore spontaneous blood flow and breathing.
Defibrillation, a common treatment for irregular heartbeats, relies on electrical therapy to “shock” the heart back into normal rhythms. The use of CPR and AEDs in the first few minutes after collapse can result in long-term survival rates as high as 50 percent, according to a handout from the Decatur Fire Department.
One study found that two-thirds of the AED “saves” were performed by a layperson.
“I was an EMT for years,” Newsom, the Bridgeport trainer, said. “When you carried in a defibrillator, it was a big deal. (Now) a layperson can pull an AED out of the cabinet and use it. It’s awesome to me how user-friendly they are. They have voice prompts that tell you everything you need to do.
“Technology is amazing. Remember how the original computers were the size of rooms? Now we have ones the size of watches. It’s the same with AEDs. The idea they’d make it portable so that anybody could use one blows me away.”
Newsom and the Bridgeport school district were recently the recipients of a new AED donated by North Texas Sport and Spine.
“With the latest stories about AED resuscitation coming out of Azle and Frisco, it seemed the right thing to do,” said Robert E. Stapp, chief executive officer and managing partner of the Decatur business. “There is a strong medical presence here in Wise County and our community should benefit from this resource.
“I hope this story will spur additional AED donations throughout North Texas along with sports medicine education,” he said.
In September, an AED and quick-thinking adults saved the life of a 13-year-old boy after he collapsed during a seventh-grade football game in Azle. A few weeks later, two teachers at a Frisco middle school used an AED to save the life of a 12-year-old student who collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest.
Stapp said he contacted principals at both Decatur High and Bridgeport High to offer an AED donation.
“Bridgeport indicated that an AED would be a great addition to their new gym and overall sports program as they had already exhausted their grant funds,” he said “We were delighted to sponsor this donation to Bridgeport ISD to protect students and staff alike.”
At a school board meeting in Alvord near the end of September, trustee Vic Czerniak asked district nurse Cheryl Clark, in light of the highly publicized Azle incident, how Alvord ISD was equipped for AEDs.
Clark proudly responded that Alvord, with about 750 students enrolled, owns 10 AEDs, which she said was “probably more than any other district in Wise County.”
“Two of these were purchased through the state grant program, one was donated by TASB (Texas Association of School Boards), and three were donated by local companies,” she said. “The rest were purchased by our district.”
The AEDs are allotted with one per campus and two at the high school, one in each gym, one in the field house and one in the weight room.
“We are fortunate to have as many as we do,” she said, “but there is always room for another. All of our coaching and UIL staff are trained annually, as required by law. Many of our faculty and staff at each campus volunteered to be trained each year.”
AEDs cost anywhere from $1,100 to $2,500 each, according to local first responders. Clark said Alvord’s AEDs require $400 batteries, and defibrillator “smart” pads, which have a short shelf life, cost $80 to $100 apiece.
“This is of great cost to the district, but there is never a doubt that we will cover this expense,” she said. “Our school board funds this unquestionably.”
A state law, enacted in 2007, required all Texas schools to have AEDs on each campus, at each sports competition and “available” for each sports practice.
Newsom, the athletic trainer for Bridgeport schools, said that prior to the state law requiring AEDs, he took a suggestion from then-Bridgeport High Principal Kenneth Thetford and applied for a grant designed to provide AEDs for use in rural school districts.
“We were denied, because the response time (of first responders) is so great here,” the trainer said.
Bridgeport ISD, with more than 2,200 students, now has seven AEDs. Like the much-smaller Alvord, though, it has never had to use an AED.
“They (AEDs) are great devices to have,” Newsom said. “But you want them to collect dust. If you’re using them, something bad has happened. But if someone has a cardiac event, this is the best thing to have.”
A study by University of Washington researchers of high schools equipped with AEDs found the survival rate for sudden cardiac arrest was an impressive 64 percent – and nearly two-thirds of the people rescued were adults.
Another Texas law requires that all state buildings have AEDs on site.
All of Wise County government buildings are equipped and so are patrol cars for the sheriff’s deputies.
“We actually did get a $68,000 state grant administered by the (North Texas) Council of Governments in 2010,” Sheriff David Walker said. “The county put defibrillators in all the county buildings. Then we got enough to put AEDs in every patrol car that we have.
“Obviously, we’re not paramedics or EMTs, but we do have some who work for us who do carry an EMT or paramedic license. If you’re in the right place at the right time, they (AEDs) are useful. A lot of times an ambulance is on the way, but if we need to use it, we’ll have it.”
The Decatur Fire Department has a program called “Community Heart Savers” that conducts monthly CPR and AED training for those who live in the city and the fire department’s response district, or who work within these areas.
To register or seek more information, call (940) 627-3199, visit the station at 1705 S. State St., or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Community Heart Savers has also been instrumental in getting AEDs installed in city-owned buildings. City employees are required to be CPR and AED certified.
“We’ll reach out to anybody in the county to teach CPR and how to operate AEDs,” said Deroy Bennett, deputy chief of prevention for the Decatur Fire Department. “We’ve been successful in getting a few businesses and churches that regularly have large groups of people to purchase AEDs.
“There’s no law that businesses have to have them, just as there’s no law for them to report to us that they have them,” Bennett said. “But we try to help them wherever we can.”
Besides the Decatur Fire Department, Wise County EMS also offers CPR and AED training. Dillard, the EMS administrator, said all 38 of his employees are certified to train the public on CPR and AEDs.
Newsom, the Bridgeport athletic trainer, said all Texas athletic trainers have to be certified as AED and CPR instructors, too.
“We have to be able to instruct other people in how to use them,” he said. “I taught my son how to use it when he was 10 or 11. That’s how easy they are.”
AED: HOW IT WORKS
What’s small but powerful, lightweight but strongly recommended and can save you from America’s No. 1 killer?
The answer is an AED, which is short for an automated external defibrillator.
The machine is designed specifically for the first person to respond to a victim of sudden cardiac arrest, and not only can it restore a victim’s heartbeat and breathing, it’s also easy to operate.
“Remove clothing from chest,” is the first instruction you hear from the AED version sampled by the Messenger at the Decatur Fire Department, a 4.5-pound plastic box 4 inches high, 8 inches wide and 9.5 inches long.
“Connect electrodes” comes next. A diagram shows where to attach the electrodes (on either side of the heart).
The AED does it all from there, advising “Please do not touch the patient,” “Analyzing now,” and “Heart rhythm shockable” or “Heart rhythm not shockable.”
If a shock is what’s needed, the machine will provide one, with no need to touch the machine. If the situation is “not shockable,” the AED will prompt the rescuer to “Continue with CPR.”
“If you’re doing CPR, it has a timer that will tell you how long you’ve been doing compressions,” firefighter Brandon McGar explained. “It’ll also have a beat, so you know when to do compressions.
“If the shock doesn’t help, we’ll do CPR all the way to the hospital,” he said.
Deputy Chief Deroy Bennett marvels at the technology.
“AEDs weren’t even available to lay users 15 years ago,” he said. “A layperson couldn’t read an EKG strip and determine when defibrillation is needed. To have a unit that is programmable to analyze heart rhythms is really something.”