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July 16, 2003
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Police get defibrillators; Many squad cars being equipped

The Chicago Daily Herald

Sometimes the fire truck and ambulance get stuck in traffic along with the defibrillators they carry. Sure, it's just a brief delay, but every second counts when your heart has stopped beating.

Rather than staring at their watches and praying firefighters arrive quickly, police officers in 24 DuPage County departments have decided to carry automatic defibrillators in their cars. So far, that decision has saved at least three lives.

"A lot of times they are closer than we are," Lombard Fire Department Lt. Michael Kalina said. Fire departments typically have a four- to six-minute response time, fast enough to stop a fire, but an eternity for heart-attack victims.

Each minute a person's heart goes without beating, the chance of restarting it and survival drop by 10 percent.

So if you are talking about a six-minute response time, you are talking about a 40 percent chance of survival," Kalina said. "But if a police car can get there in two minutes, you have an 80 percent chance of living."

The laptop-size defibrillators carried by police automatically detect abnormal heart rhythms and adjust for the appropriate shock. The machines' voice commands tell users when to push the shock button and when the heart beat has returned to normal.

Using them saves lives. The American Heart Association estimates 912 people in DuPage County experience sudden cardiac arrest each year. The survival rate if the heart attack occurs outside a hospital is only 5 percent, unless a defibrillator is nearby.

Health officials estimate 137 DuPage residents could be saved annually if someone were there to jump-start their heart.

The theory already has started to pan out.

Downers Grove police saved the first life in the county in 2000 and started the local patrol car defibrillator craze. In 2001, a Roselle police officer shocked back to life a 70-year-old man who had collapsed at a bowling alley. In 2002, a Lombard officer saved a 58-year-old man found unconscious in his home.

Similar success stories stretch across the suburbs, some even gaining regional fame, such as when a Deerfield police officer used a defibrillator in his squad car in 2001 to save the life of a 13- year-old Little League baseball player whose heart stopped after a pitch hit him in the chest.

Kalina, as chairman of DuPage County Operation Heartbeat, has been working with the American Heart Association and local hospitals to find money to get defibrillators to every department that wants them. Talks are under way between Central DuPage Hospital and the Winfield and Wheaton police departments regarding splitting the cost, said Stacy Dixson, American Heart Association spokesman. The DuPage County Sheriff's Department got defibrillators from the hospital earlier this year.

At more than a $1,000 a piece, outfitting a department can strain already tight budgets.

West Chicago police have all trained to use defibrillators that are available in public buildings. But as for having one in their cars, they will have to wait.

"It will cost us in excess of $30,000 for the entire department," Chief Gerald Mourning said.

"Whenever the money is available, it is near the top of our list. We would love to put them in the cars tomorrow if we could, but the technology caught up with us as the economy went bad."

When civic budgets were flush, the portable defibrillators became all the rage.

The devices have popped up at golf courses, in classrooms, at sporting events and on airplanes. Naperville was on the cutting edge of the trend, putting automatic defibrillators in public buildings and the Metra station in 2000.

Although defibrillators in heavily populated areas can save lives, the majority of cardiac arrests happen at home. And when the 911 call goes out, the first one on the scene is usually a police officer.

Lombard police Lt. Dan Neustadt can attest to that. He beat the fire department to the house of a heart attack victim and was able to save him because of the defibrillator in his patrol car.

"This really does work," he said. "You can see what the great results can be."

The American Heart Association is striving to get defibrillators in police cars in every municipality in DuPage County. Here's where you can find them:

*Full coverage is defined as the patrol division having enough defibrillators to reach a call anywhere in town within minutes.

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