Defibrillator program provides help in a heartbeat

NANAIMO - B.C. program aims to increase access to defibrillators in public spaces.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of B.C. and Yukon has been given a boost in its efforts to provide help in a heartbeat for patients experiencing cardiac arrest.

On Thursday, the federal government announced it would be following through on a $10-million funding committment made in 2011.

It’s good news for B.C. Heart and Stroke’s PAD (Public Access to Defibrillation) program, which will begin rolling out in March.

The PAD program, which is a partnership between Heart and Stroke and B.C. Ambulance Service, aims to donate and install 650 Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in public places in communities across the province over the next three years.

“What that funding represents for us in B.C. is there’s probably about 200 additional AEDs added into our program,” said Erika Callowhill, director of marketing and communications. “We’re not doing them all in one city at one time, we’re moving it around just to make sure we get the broader based approach.”

All municipalities are scheduled to receive a defibrillator, but additional ones will depend on the community’s size. Currently, three units are scheduled for installation in Nanaimo.

The AED is a smart device which can be used by a bystander to assist a person who has gone into cardiac arrest by delivering a shock. A voice recording on the unit walks the user through the process. Each unit can cost up to $2,000.

“You don’t have to have a medical degree or be an ambulance person,” Callowhill said. “It only delivers a shock if it is needed, so it can tell if the person’s in sudden cardiac arrest versus a heart attack.”

In combination with CPR, an defibrillator helps to stabilize a patient until emergency responders arrive on the scene.

“If you’re shocked with an AED within the first five minutes, it heightens your chance of survival by 75 per cent,” Callowhill said.

It’s important to note that there is a distinct difference between sudden cardiac arrest and a heart attack. A heart attack is usually caused by a ‘plumbing problem’, where the arteries to the heart are blocked and the heart does not get enough blood.

In sudden cardiac arrest, the heart’s electrical system malfunctions and the heart beats irregularly and dangerously fast, and the ventricles are unable to pump blood to the rest of the body. Without immediate help, brain damage occurs within three minutes.

In B.C., sudden cardiac arrest claims the lives of 2,000 people a year.

“It’s a very scary number,” Callowhill said. “On average, only five per cent of people who experience a cardiac arrest survive.”

In addition to making defibrillators more readily available, the PAD program is also setting up a registry where users will be able to call 911 and be directed to the nearest AED while medical help is on the way.

The role of BCAS is to administer the registry and provide on-site training for employees in public spaces (arenas, community centres, etc.) where the defibrillators are to be installed. They are also responsible for providing maintenance of the units to ensure they are in working order.

A little known fact is that use of the defibrillators is covered under the Good Samaritan act, Callowhill said.

“One of the reasons that’s important is we really want to encourage bystanders to use them because the first 10 minutes really mean a lot,” she said.

For more information on the B.C. PAD Program, please visit