• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Public defibrillators reduce cardiac deaths

January 26, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Every 30 seconds, someone has a sudden cardiac arrest. It's when the heart short-circuits, and it's difficult to survive. But an automated external defibrillator can make all the difference.

The odds of surviving a sudden cardiac arrest heart attack are about 5 percent. But thanks to the placement of automated external defibrillators (AED) in public places, the chances of survival are on the rise.

People need to be aware where AEDs are, because as one local man will tell us, it can happen to anyone at any time.

It really is good to see 37-year-Jon Aharoni, because by all accounts, he should be dead. Three years ago, this professional athlete was playing volleyball on a beach in Santa Monica.

"And I looked over and I said, 'I don't feel very well,' and I planted myself face-first into the ground with my eyes wide open. My heart had stopped and I died," said Jon.

It was sudden cardiac arrest. His friends tried CPR, but his heart had stopped beating for 10 minutes. That's when paramedics arrived and used an automated external defibrillator to shock his heart back to life.

"When people have these electrical short circuits the thing that most impacts their survival is how quickly you can shock their heart back to normal," said electrophysiologist Dr. Shephal Doshi, St. John's Health Center.

A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine finds having defibrillators available in public places can improve survival significantly.

In the study, the authors looked at 13,000 cases of sudden cardiac arrest: 9,500 of them happened at home. The survival rate was 34 percent when the AED was used in a public setting compared to 12 percent at home.

"What happens is that many patients are alone at home and if they have cardiac arrest there's no one to put the device on them," said Doshi.

Doshi says many people don't even know these devices are available.

"One impediment to this is we can put the device there but until we educate the public, it doesn't do us a lot of good," said Doshi.

For Jon, the most wonderful thing about surviving sudden cardiac arrest is his 9-month-old daughter, Jaimie.

"I love, love, love this idea," said Jon. "And I hope people can really grab onto it and learn how to use them."

Doshi says published data reveal your best chance for surviving a sudden cardiac arrest is in a Las Vegas casino. The reasons: Security cameras can spot when someone collapses. Plus, casinos have numerous AED devices available and most of the staff is trained.