EAGLE COUNTY — Seconds count when sudden cardiac arrest strikes. Help will be closer than ever this year in some parts of the Vail Valley.
Sudden cardiac arrest sounds like what it is — the victim’s heart stops without warning. When that happens, quick help is critical. An automated external defibrillator, or AED, can provide that quick help. The devices can be effectively used by virtually anyone and will often shock a cardiac arrest victim’s heart back into action.
The problem is having an AED in the same general area as a cardiac arrest victim. At the moment, there are between 225 and 250 of the devices in the Vail Valley, but many are in private buildings or are locked away from the public.
NEW AEDS IN THE VALLEY
Vail, Beaver Creek and Eagle-Vail this year will receive a brace of new AEDs, all put in conspicuous public places. There will be five new devices in Vail Village, an equal number in Eagle-Vail and four new ones placed around the main plaza in Beaver Creek Village.
The drive for the new devices has come from Starting Hearts, a local nonprofit group started in 2010 by Lynn Blake. For the past two years, Starting Hearts has been on a mission to train people in the basics of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and has also been looking for donors to help buy more AEDs for the valley.
A recent Valentine’s Day event raised more than $80,000 for Starting Hearts. Vail firefighter Mike McGee, who serves on the nonprofit’s board of directors, said some of the money raised was for the general cause. Other donors specified a location for the device they donated.
One of those spots is near the Covered Bridge in Vail Village. The spot is obvious and an often-used meeting spot. Having a device there that could save the life of someone coming from sea level with an undiagnosed heart condition makes a lot of sense.
The problem is where to put the thing so it’s both obvious and somewhat discreet. AEDs use batteries — how best to ensure the device is ready to go when needed? And then there’s Vail’s occasional problem with drunken yahoos on Bridge Street. What if a device is damaged or stolen?
The answer to the first question took a bit of thought, but was, eventually, as obvious as the need. When it’s installed in the next few weeks, the Bridge Street device will be mounted to a town light pole. There, the AED’s battery can stay charged and warm.
And since anything mounted and available for virtually anyone to use is susceptible to knuckleheads, all the devices are insured. And, McGee said, some have GPS devices installed so their location is always known. Others will call the Vail emergency dispatch center as soon as the door to the box is opened.
Once the box is opened, McGee said basic operations couldn’t be simpler — turn on the device and follow the directions.
And, he added, Colorado law exempts anyone using an AED in a good-faith effort to aid another is exempt from any liability.
In addition to the five new devices in Vail, another five are going into Eagle-Vail, split between the business district and the neighborhood.
The next step, Blake said, is ensuring that the dispatch center in Vail has a comprehensive database of where the AEDs are. That will help Starting Hearts’ “Neighbor Saver” program, in which the dispatch center will call or text someone nearby when a call comes in to report a cardiac arrest.
It will also help dispatchers know, for instance, that a device is across the street from the location of an emergency call.
The fact is that someone in the neighborhood will almost always be able to get to a victim before police, firefighters or an ambulance crew.
That’s why all the vehicles used by Beaver Creek’s security crew have operating AEDs in them.
Besides those devices, and the ones in hotels, condos and stores, the Beaver Creek Resort Company this year will put four AEDs around Beaver Creek Village.
“It’s something we hope we’ll never have to use,” resort company director Tim Baker said.
Baker said the resort company’s board didn’t have a long discussion before deciding to fund the new defibrillators.
“It’s good for public safety and health,” Baker said.
While the new defibrillators are welcome, the AEDs in the valley now cover just part of the need.
Blake said another 400 or so — along with trained neighbors and emergency services crews — are needed to adequately cover the Eagle River Valley and the areas north of Interstate 70. That’s a lot of devices — and a lot of money.
But, Blake said, the response to Starting Hearts’ pitch is getting better all the time. Someday, when seconds count, help will come much sooner.