Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Lifesaving Defibrillators Are Absent From Most Gyms

Stephen P. James was playing racquetball at a Bethesda health club on Feb. 3, 2002, when someone urgently called him to help a player on a nearby court who had collapsed in cardiac arrest. James, a physician, gave the man cardiopulmonary resuscitation for more than 20 minutes with the help of two other people. By the time an ambulance arrived and the man's heart was shocked, he was dead.

Afterward, James, who works at the National Institutes of Health, suggested the club get an automated external defibrillator (AED), a device someone with little or no training can use to deliver a lifesaving jolt of electricity to someone in cardiac arrest. Nothing came of the request.

On the Saturday after last Thanksgiving, it happened again. James, 56, was at the club when he received another urgent summons to tend to a man who had collapsed on the basketball court. He and a few others, including a club employee, performed CPR for about 10 minutes.

This time they were luckier. After a shock from the paramedics' AED, the victim's heart started beating again and he began to breathe. He is alive today.

I think I would join a new gym. Anyway, the article comments on the benefits that having AED's in such places as airports, casinos and stadiums. It seems that gyms would be a logical place for AED's to be, given the number of people who ignore the advice to "consult a physician before beginning an exercise program"..

What sets health clubs apart is that they are places where a person's risk of sudden death is certifiably above average. While regular exercise decreases the lifetime risk of heart disease, the stress of exercise can trigger cardiac arrest.

Information collected on 22,000 male doctors enrolled in the Physicians' Health Study run by Harvard Medical School found that risk of dying during (or right after) exercise was 17 times higher than at times of no exertion. Another study, which looked at the two-year experience of a chain of 320 health clubs in the United States, recorded one death in every 2.6 million workouts. Most victims were people in their mid-fifties who exercised sporadically.

"Men come in and throw caution to the wind, turn the treadmill on at 6 miles an hour and go to it," said Barry A. Franklin of William Beaumont Hospital near Detroit, who conducted the health club study.

The concerns over liability have been a large hurdle in the acquisition of the devices, but the only suits that have materialized so far have been involving facilities without AED's. You can purchase an AED here for less money than quoted in the article. I will investigate the AED situation at my gym today.
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