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Nonprofit seeks to place automated external defibrillator in area businesses

John Seelmeyer
Northern Nevada Business Weekly
Rob Sabo/Northern Nevada Business WeeklyMike Shirley of Double Diamond Athletic Club holds a defibrillator he bought for his business.
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RENO, Nev. – Mike Shirley had strapped on his backpack and was ready to leave the Double Diamond Athletic Club he owns when a breathless staff member told him a member had collapsed in a racquetball court.

The middle-aged man had no pulse when Shirley arrived on that evening in January 2003. His eyes were rolled back in his head.

Employees of the athletic club grabbed the automated external defibrillator that Shirley had purchased less than a year earlier. He applied the AED unit, which analyzed the man’s condition and automatically prompted Shirley through the steps that led to application of an electric shock to get the man’s heart started again.

It worked.

Minutes later, emergency responders arrived to treat the man, who was conscious, murmured his thanks to Shirley as he was carried to an ambulance and lived for five years after his brush with death.

A nonprofit that seeks to install AED units in businesses across Northern Nevada this year is stepping up its efforts.

“We see citizens using this equipment and turning a non-beating heart into a beating heart,” says Rich Dwinell, a Lake Tahoe firefighter who serves as president-elect of Nevada Project Heartbeat. “We see it growing and growing and growing.”

As AED availability becomes more widespread in Northern Nevada businesses, so do stories of lives saved.

Rich Torok, an employee of General Electric’s facility at Minden, was saved by an AED last year – and the company has since purchased nine more units for the facility, which is four miles from the nearest fire department rescue team.

“The next best thing was having this happen in the hospital,” says Torok. “They had all the right tools, all the right people, all the right training with all the right attitudes.”

Duane McDuffee of the environmental health and safety department at International Game Technology, meanwhile, says he’s used AED units twice when employees fell victim to sudden cardiac arrest.

Says Mimi Tholl, an on-site nurse for IGT at Reno, “The response time of the fire department and REMSA is quick. But when someone’s heart has stopped, seconds count.”

A victim who receives defibrillation within one minute of a sudden cardiac arrest has a 90 percent chance of resuscitation. If the victim must wait 10 minutes for defibrillation, the chance of survival drops to 5 percent.

Businesses are getting the message.

The Atlantis Resort and Casino added seven AED units last year. Thunderbird Lodge at Incline Village purchased two. Sand Harbor State Park, where an AED unit saved a life in 2008, recently added two units. The Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort added its fourth unit, and the Biltmore Casino at Crystal Bay purchased its second.

Nevada Project Heartbeat’s Dwinell says the nonprofit nailed down special pricing with Cardiac Science Corp., a maker of AED units in Bothell, Wash., in an effort to overcome worries about cost. With the special pricing, AED units are roughly $1,500 each.

While price of the units has caused some businesses to pause before making the commitment, Dwinell says others have worried about potential liability.

“The liability myth has been destroyed over time,” he says, noting that federal and state laws both provide liability protection for homes and businesses with AED units.

Some businesses see themselves as good neighbors when they purchase an AED unit.

Loreen Hautekeet of Mike’s Pharmacy in Carson City notes, for instance, that the store is surrounded by offices and businesses with a steady stream of visitors, and the pharmacy’s location played a role in its decision to purchase an AED unit.

“If it’s needed, it’s needed,” says Hautekeet. “It really can make a difference.”

The effort to place AEDs in more businesses and other public locations throughout Northern Nevada got a boost this year when A2 Reno, a group of young advertising professionals, decided to provide a free marketing campaign to Nevada Project Heartbeat.

The advertising group has been providing the three-year-old nonprofit with help in advertising, public relations, a new website and other marketing tools.

“They have been a blessing,” says Dwinell.

At Double Diamond Athletic Club, Shirley says the price of an AED unit and the time spent training his staff in CPR and AED lifesaving techniques is inconsequential compared with the value of a saved life.

“We are in a public building. I have 700 people a day come to my gym. It would be irresponsible for me not to take that step,” he says.

And then he thinks back to the night seven years ago when he saved a member’s life.

“I would hate myself if I hadn’t had an AED available,” Shirley says.


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