Chain of Life, Bigtime

Sep 29th, 2010 | By | Category: Rescues

Were it not for the quick actions of his friends and the rapid administration of an electric shock to jump-start his lifeless heart, Rick Rockwood, 59, knows he would be resting with the worms right now.

On Nov. 24, 2008, Rockwood was playing hoops at the Boys & Girls Club in Duluth when his heart stopped.

“The first responders tell me I was clinically dead for almost seven minutes,” he said.

While local dentist George Balach immediately administered CPR, another teammate called 911. Within moments, firefighters from the neighboring fire hall arrived with an automatic electric defibrillator — often called an AED for short. They swiftly placed the paddles on Rockwood’s chest and shocked him back to life.

“An experience like that brings you around to thinking, ‘OK, why am I still here?’ ” Rockwood said, reflecting on his close brush with death.

It was at that point Rockwood decided: “I had to pay it forward.”

Now Rockwood, the owner and operator of a Superior insurance agency, is helping to spearhead a drive to bring 200 more AEDs to the city of Duluth in the next three years. The plan is to install the machines in public buildings and other places where they’re most likely to be needed.

The machines sell for about $1,400 apiece, said Judy Hanne Gonzalez, executive director of the Northland American Red Cross, which is serving as the lead agency for a community-wide campaign dubbed the Heartsafe Northland Program. Gonzalez estimates the effort could cost about $600,000 over the next three years.

“The city of Duluth has fallen behind many other communities when it comes to the availability of this technology, and this is an opportunity for us to catch up,” said Jim Stauber, a member of the Duluth City Council and vice chairman of the Northland American Red Cross Board of Directors, adding: “Eventually, we need to take the lead.”

Gonzalez said the Red Cross is eager to partner with churches, public entities and employers to improve access to AEDs, as well as training on how to use them.

More than 335,000 Americans per year die of sudden cardiac arrest, and another 1.2 million people suffer heart attacks.

On Monday, the Duluth City Council unanimously supported Stauber’s resolution in support of the Heartsafe initiative.

Although the initiative is beginning in Duluth, Stauber expects it soon will expand to Hermantown, Superior, Proctor and other communities in the region.

San Diego was one of the first cities to push for broader public access to AEDs, and Mike Brode, director of strategic business for Cardiac Science, a vendor of the machines, said the community is widely acknowledged as a success story of the first order. While the average national survival rate for people who suffer cardiac arrest outside of a hospital is about 5 percent, Brode said San Diego has boosted its survival rate to better than 70 percent.

There’s no mystery to the numbers. More than 5,000 AEDs have been installed in San Diego County in the past decade, Brode said.

Machines are just part of the equation, however. Gonzalez said the Red Cross already trains about 10,000 to 12,000 Northland residents each year on how to perform CPR and properly administer a shock using an AED. She hopes to see that yearly total to grow by 700 to 800 a year as part of the push to improve accessibility.

Dean Carpenter recently went through the training as an employee of Enbridge Energy Partners, and he described the new talking AEDs as easy to use.

“It basically walks you through everything,” he said.

Carpenter said he would encourage anyone and everyone to seek CPR and AED training.

“You never know when you’ll need it. It could be your mother, your father or your Aunt Bessie at the Thanksgiving table in trouble, and you need to be prepared to do something,” he said.

In June, Carpenter used his CPR training to keep a man alive for about 15 minutes at the Superior YMCA as paramedics responded.

The man has since recovered, and Carpenter said he bumped into him and his family celebrating this Father’s Day.

“It was the first time I’d seen him since the Y. I got to meet his son and wife, and their gratitude gave me a whole different level of perspective,” he said. “For me, it was probably the most special Father’s Day ever.”

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