Defibrillator installations on campus speed-up life-saving process

Matt Baker

New electronic devices worth thousands of dollars lie in unlocked cabinets all over Stanford University’s campus.

Leaving the valuable pieces of equipment unguarded may sound foolish, but easy accessibility to these potentially live-saving machines — automatic external defibrillators — is the key to their success.

Stanford is one of many universities, including Northwestern, which have installed defibrillators across their campuses. The easy-to-use machines can help bystanders save victims whose hearts have stopped.

Although Stanford has installed more of the machines in a wide variety of its buildings — from research centers to the libraries — in the past four months, many of NU’s 18 defibrillators are in athletic facilities. NU installed 10 defibrillators in 2001 and has installed eight more since then. There are two reasons why NU has not installed the machines in most academic buildings. First, the university has been trying to comply with a state law, which goes into effect July 1, requiring all athletic facilities to install the machines.

University Police cars also can respond to a crisis almost immediately and are also equipped with defibrillators, so installing them in academic buildings is unnecessary, said Christopher Johnson, director of risk management and safety.

NU has five AEDs in UP cars — three on the Evanston campus and two in Chicago. There are also units at the Sports Pavilion and Aquatics Center, Ryan Field, Welsh-Ryan Arena and Patten Gym. Another will be installed at Blomquist Recreation Center soon, Johnson said.

“By the time someone ran across the building (to retrieve an AED) and back, the officers could have been at the scene for three or four minutes,” Johnson said.

And in the case of cardiac arrest, those three or four minutes can be critical.

The longer the body goes without pumping blood on its own, the more damage it receives. A fast response can be the difference between life and death, said Dr. Joanne Connolly, acting medical director of NU’s Health Service.

“(Easy access to defibrillators) should help save more people, and the people it does help will have less damage,” Connolly said.

Since every second counts, the device uses verbal commands so anyone could use it in the event of an emergency. The device sends electric pulses through a victim’s body to restart the heart at the press of a button.

Although Connolly said cardiac arrest rarely occurs among young people, incidents have happened at NU in the past. Frederick Lieb, a McCormick junior who suffered from a heart condition, collapsed and died after a football game in October.

And in the nearly four years that NU has installed defibrillators, the $3,000 machines have been used only once — about a month ago, Johnson said, when a Sodexho employee had a heart attack.

Some students said AEDs are important to have around even though they may not be used very often.

“Defibrillators are one of those things that you don’t think about,” said Robert Quick, a Communication sophomore. “But when it comes time to use it and you don’t have one, that’s when you feel the pinch.”

Despite the infrequency of their use and high cost, Johnson said having the protection of an AED is priceless.

“Any time you save a person’s life, it’s well worth the money,” he said.

Reach Matt Baker at [email protected].