Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Giusto's Heart, Budget in the Right Place

You don't know it now, but last week Bernie Giusto may have saved your life:
On May 21, [Multnomah Sheriff's Lt. Michael] Shults was at the end of a challenging, two-week Oregon Marine Board course for public safety officials at Camp Rilea when he felt light-headed. He had just emerged from a pool where he had been put through numerous scenarios -- most that involved treading water in full patrol gear.

"I put my hand on the shoulder of the guy in front of me and said, 'Keep an eye on me. . . . I have to take a knee,' " Shults said. "When I went down on two knees, I knew I was in trouble . . . then I went out."

The stress of the exercise and a blockage in an artery near his heart had sent him into cardiac arrest. According to the American Heart Association, Shults was one of about 166,000 Americans who suffers an out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest each year.
Shults' near-death experience prompted Sheriff Bernie Giusto to find the money in his budget to purchase 20 automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, for deputies to carry in their squad cars. The deputies will use the devices to revive victims of heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest, accidents and drownings -- whether that's another deputy or the public they serve.

The simple-to-use devices will also be installed in strategic locations in buildings used by the sheriff's office.
This is a pet concern of mine, and Shults' experience encapsulates why--sudden arrest can happen to almost anyone at anytime, but if there's a thousand-dollar electronic gadget anywhere nearby, the chance that they'll survive their attack goes way up. And the best part is that it requires no foreknowledge for someone to save them--just the AED. Any idiot can use one; I know because I have. The recent development of user-friendly AED's has been a tremendous boon, and it coincides with the new knowledge that CPR is at best a tool for keeping someone alive long enough for trained medical personnel to take over--and not an effective lifesaver.

Unfortunately, there is another drawback to CPR: bystanders are understandably a little wary of putting their mouth on a stranger, and then pushing down on their chest hard enough to crack the sternum. (Maybe it's not always understandable; check out this tragic story of a W. VA police chief so petrified of AIDS--or perhaps just gay people--that he ordered another officer to cease CPR on a dying gay man). Those kinds of shocking incidents are what keeps Portlander Richard Lazar, President of AED Risk Insights, vigilant for opportunities to get decisionmakers to install AEDs both in public places and with emergency responders like Giusto's sheriffs.

Bernie did the right thing in this case, but everyone familiar with his ongoing battle with county commissioners over the proper funding for his department knows that coming up with an extra $30,000 was not an easy task. Ad hoc money out of budgets isn't going to cut it. The state Department of Health Services offered grants in 2005 to rural first responder agencies for AED placement, as part of an initiative spearheaded by the federal government. I'm seeking to get a comment from DHS on whether the program was continued in 2006, and it would be a damned shame if it wasn't. I guarantee you that if asked, counties with Amish Country Popcorn or an annual bean festival would rather have AEDs than anti-terror apparatus. Perhaps if they got creative with the grant application and instead of calling them AEDs, referred to them as "terrorist detainee electroshock interrogation assistance devices," we'd get every mall and water park a lifesaver instead of a moneywaster. For now though, if the sight of a Multno County Sheriff at your door literally gives you a heart attack, be glad you've got a better chance of pulling through. And the next time you think your taxes are too high, you might reflect on the fact that it's not always pissed away on stupid stuff.