About 200,000 defibrillators are being used nationwide.
NEW STANTON, Pa. (AP) -- The Pennsylvania Turnpike became safer last week with the introduction of automatic external defibrillators for public use at its 21 service plazas.
The devices shock hearts back into rhythm after sudden cardiac arrest, during which the heart stops beating because of irregular nerve impulses. About 250,000 Americans -- or about 28 every hour -- die each year from the condition, the American Heart Association says.
Dr. Vince Mosesso, medical director of the National Center for Early Defibrillation at the University of Pittsburgh, said about 200,000 defibrillators are being used nationwide. Up to 25 percent of those are in public places ranging from gambling casinos to airports to public transportation stations, Mosesso said, although he knows of no other highway system using them in public areas.
What it costs
The commission is paying Complient Corp., of Solon, Ohio, $62,000 a year to provide and maintain the devices at 21 service plazas, as well as nine more at state police stations along the turnpike. Complient is also training people to use the defibrillators.
About 100 turnpike employees have been trained and that number will grow to 200, said Joseph Brimmeier, executive director of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission. In addition, some employees of service-plaza vendors will be trained.
Those who use the devices are covered under the state's Good Samaritan law, which protects them from lawsuits, Brimmeier said.
Frank Swiger, Complient's director of education, said people can use the devices, which have recorded commands with step-by-step instructions, but a trained individual is preferred.
Timing is crucial
That's because time is crucial during sudden cardiac arrest. A person's chance of survival decreases by 7 percent to 10 percent every minute, said Kweilin Nassar, a heart association spokeswoman.
Sudden cardiac arrest differs from a heart attack, which occurs when a blood vessel connected to the heart is blocked. Because cardiac arrest patients are unconscious, the two conditions are generally easy to tell apart. But the devices are also designed to not send an electric shock to someone who doesn't need it, Swiger said.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine about two years ago showed 50 percent of those who received defibrillation before an ambulance arrived survived. And 75 percent survived if they got help within three minutes of collapsing, Mosesso said.