BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - More than 300,000 people collapse each year in a public place from a heart attack, but what if the one device that could help save your life is locked away or in a room next door and no one knows it? Automatic Extgernal Defibrillators are growing more common, but our On Your Side Investigation found you may have a hard time finding them in some of the busiest public places in downtown Birmingham.
Cardiac arrest survivor Stephanie Douglas knows how valuable AEDs can be.
“My heart was not pumping, it was not pumping blood and oxygen through my body to my brain, so I was going to die,” Douglas says.
Douglas collapsed inside a fast food restaurant last year when her heart suddenly stopped.
“I remember thinking I was really dizzy, not even sure I completed that thought and the next thing I remember is waking up in the back of an ambulance,” Douglas remembers.
Douglas was saved first by a nurse who just happened to be in the drive through and ran in to start CPR, then by an AED.
“The only thing that was going to reverse my heart rhythm and start my heart again was that electric shock,” Douglas reports.
“Within the first few minutes of someone suffering a sudden cardiac arrest, studies show a 7-10% decrease in survival rate for every minute that passes," advises Dr. Celeste Reese-Willis with American Family Care. “Having an AED will allow you to increase the survival of that patient.”
Dr. Reese-Willis says there clear guidelines for where businesses, landlords, or public buildings should put AEDS.
“The type of buildings that would be great to have AEDS would be shopping malls, convention centers, airplanes, airports, any place where there are gonna be a lot of people in a public place,” she advises. “The best place to put them is near the elevator or the cafeteria in places where you’re gonna have people at risk for a sudden cardiac arrest.”
So we set out to see if you collapsed in some of Birmingham’s busiest public areas would you have the help close enough and in plain view of a witness to help?
We started at the downtown branch of the Birmingham public library and couldn't find an AED, and the clerk at the circulation desk we asked didn't know if they had one and where it was.
We did find one in the Jefferson County courthouse on the 1st floor near the revenue department, but across Linn Park inside Birmingham City Hall we were told the AED was stationed on the 3rd floor but we couldn’t find one outside the city council chambers, or in the lobbies of the 2nd or 4th floor.
We did find one right outside the Birmingham School Board’s meeting room, we didn’t see one clearly marked in the exterior walls of the Summit and didn’t find one clearly marked inside the Belk store and clerks there didn’t know if the store had one. The Summit tells us they do have AEDs in their security office on site and also have one in the security vehicle that is on patrol.
We also checked and found two inside the Galleria, one on each floor, but not marked on the map.
“They’re not in enough places,” Douglas says. “And if public places and businesses have those available and have people trained to use them, which is pretty much anyone trained in CPR, if the staff knows where to find them, you’re gonna save a life. It doesn’t do any good if it’s locked up in an office somewhere. It has to be where someone can get to it, just any bystander that says ‘hey I’ll go grab the AED.’ They have to be able to get to it, otherwise it’s useless.”