Picture this: A man lies on a gurney.
His button-down shirt is ripped open, his chest exposed. A doctor, with a white coat flapping behind him, pushes through physicians and nurses surrounding the patient.
The doctor rubs some ointment between the two round paddles, and slams them on the man's chest.
"Clear," he huffs.
The patient's legs, torso and arms convulse. His body lifts off the gurney.
This is soap-opera medicine.
But here in the Rim Country, paramedics and police officers employ the latest in high-tech, user-friendly cardiac-emergency equipment, and it comes without the histrionics of TV drama.
More than 1 million Americans will have a heart attack this year. Nearly half of those victims will die, according to the American Heart Association.
That's why emergency personnel recently installed automated external defibrillators or AEDs in public places around the Rim Country. They're so easy to use, even laymen can administer them.
"Any place that has an AED, the employees are trained to use it," said Payson Fire Department paramedic and project coordinator Dan Bramble. "It's amazing technology."
Through numerous grants, and in partnership with Mogollon Health Alliance, Bramble and John Wisner of the Diamond Star Fire Department have secured 10 units communitywide -- six in local businesses and four in police cruisers.
The Payson Athletic Club was the first business in the area to install an AED. Louise Echols, owner of Payson Athletic Club, said the technology augments the safety of her clients.
"In the gym industry it's becoming standard to have them," Echols said. "It was something we wanted to do for the community."
Echols' health club hosts Mogollon Health Alliance's MHAX III, a physical therapy program for residents with special health needs, especially cardiopulmonary conditions.
"We monitor their blood pressure and pulse before and after they exercise," Echols said. "It's a real comfort for us knowing we have (the AED) here."
Mazatzal Casino recently procured two units, and although training is still under way, safety coordinator Luci Shaw hopes to have the first installed within the next few weeks.
"We consider it an extra service to our customers," said Shaw. "To me it's an insurance policy."
AEDs are designed for first-response situations -- before emergency personnel arrive.
"Ninety-nine percent accuracy," said paramedic Rick Heron of the Star Valley Fire Department. "It's something you can depend on."
The self-contained 6.7-pound, neon-green unit runs on a 10-year lithium battery. When the AED is activated, a voice that sounds a little like the computer HAL 9000 from the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey," eases novice Good Samaritans.
"Stay calm. Check responsiveness. Call for help," the AED says.
The device walks the operator through the process -- first perform CPR, then, if needed, shave the chest, and apply electrodes.
"A hairy chest can prevent the patient from getting the full amount of (electrical charge) delivered or it could prevent the unit from working at all," Payson paramedic Rhett Connolly said.
An internal computer chip controls the entire process.
Lifesavers begin by administering CPR. The AED establishes a rate of chest compression needed to keep the patient alive. A target area in the middle of the pad pulses to that speed, helping the rescuer keep the pace.
Next, the AED determines beat irregularities, and, based on its findings, delivers the correct amount of electrical energy at timed intervals.
"To shock, it'll tell you to get clear," Connolly said. "You'll see (the patient) flinch."
Newer devices store downloadable data in the internal memory.
"(The AED) records that entire event and we can use it for additional training," he added.
AEDs are generally effective when used in the minutes following a cardiac arrest. Bramble said a person's chance of survival decreases by 10 percent each elapsing minute after a heart attack.
The AED treats the two most-common lethal rhythms: ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia.
"Their heart doesn't just stop," Bramble said. "It goes into these irregular heartbeats. It's an electrical problem. The heart is quivering uselessly and can't pump blood to the body and brain.
"The shock from the defibrillation actually stops the heart with the hopes that it'll start again."
Bramble said to call for emergency services if you experience the signs of heart attack or stroke: chest pain, nausea or vomiting, neck and arm numbness, extreme headache, blurred vision and weakness or not feeling right.
"Time is brain," said Bramble. "People do not want to acknowledge that things are bad, but that is the most critical time to call. If we're there, we can make a lifesaving intervention."
Bramble said those interested in procuring an AED or donating money to purchase additional units should contact him at the Payson Fire Department, (928) 474-5242.
Places where AEDs have been installed in Payson and surrounding areas
- Payson Athletic Club
- Payson Fire Department
- Gila County Sheriff's Office (Payson)
- Gila Community College Wellness Center
- Payson Parks and Recreation (Offseason in office; summer at pool)
- Two at casino
- Four in Payson Police Department officers' patrol cars