Portable Heart Defibrillators in the Workplace

Our story this week about a man who is alive today because his office had one of those portable heart defibrillators showed why it's so important for those life-saving devices to be available to the public. However, getting the business world to accept them has been a struggle.

Click to Listen

If not for the Automated External Defibrillator on the 45th floor of One Shell Plaza, the man who went into cardiac arrest one day in August would have died where he fell. His coworkers restarted his heart, he's recovered and he's back at work. Stories like that are now commonplace, because AED's are now fairly common in workplaces, but that hasn't always been true. When AED's first came along about 20 years ago, most companies resisted them. They worried about being sued if an employee misused one and someone died anyway. Law professor Charles Rhodes of South Texas College of Law says that was a real concern - then.

Rhodes says liability laws are slowly catching up with technology, and AED's are so easy to use, that lawsuits over their non-availability or misuse are rare. Now, it's the other way around. Companies are liable if they DON'T have AED's, and lawsuits are filed and won by families of people who died because an AED wasn't available. Rhodes says it no longer makes any sense to not have one.

Liability wasn't the only obstacle to getting AED's into the hands of lay people. As recently as 1996, only 27 states allowed non-EMT first responders to use AED's, and Texas was one of only six states that allowed untrained people to use them. Houston Emergency Services Director Dr. David Persse says that's changing, because there's so much evidence that immediate use of AED's by those at the scene is saving lives.

Dr. Persse says it's important to know that AED's aren't going to save every life. There are often other factors in a cardiac arrest or heart attack and some patients die anyway. What's important he says, is that with an AED there's a chance of surviving until EMT's arrive. Without one, there's almost no chance.