As Joe Cirulli, owner of Gainesville Health & Fitness Center in Gainesville, Florida, returned to his office after a Starbucks® run, he saw something that made his heart stop. One of his members was lying lifeless on the ground. Two other members, who happened to be physicians, were performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the man, with no results. Cirulli ran up to his office on the second floor, grabbed an automatic external defibrillator (AED) and ran back downstairs to offer assistance.
“We tried three times, and on the third time he came back to life,” Cirulli says. “After it was all over and it sank in what had happened, I thought what a great investment that AED was. We immediately bought another one for the upstairs.”
Stories like Cirulli’s are becoming more common as fitness facility memberships grow and the average age of members creeps past 35. Cirulli has had AEDs in all his facilities for years, and he says the devices will be standard equipment in any health clubs he opens in the future. Town Sports International Holdings, which owns and operates health clubs in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions, reports that six lives have been saved in the 18 months since it deployed AEDs in all 141 locations. In each case, according to the company, the AED “was put into use, and the victim had regained a normal heart rhythm before emergency medical services arrived.”
One of the primary, baseline skills a certified fitness professional possesses is cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training. But is CPR enough? Will knowing how to perform CPR help save someone who has sudden cardiac arrest (SCA)?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration, there are 220,000 victims of SCA per year in the United States. SCA occurs when ventricular fibrillation (an arrhythmia characterized by rapid, chaotic contractions of the heart) takes place or when the heart stops beating altogether. Without medical attention, the victim collapses, loses consciousness, becomes unresponsive and dies. Many victims have no prior history of heart disease. The American Red Cross recognizes prompt external defibrillation as “the most critical step in restoring cardiac rhythm and resuscitating a victim of SCA.”
AEDs are devices about the size of a laptop computer that analyze the heart’s rhythm for any abnormalities and, if necessary, direct the responder to deliver an electrical shock to the victim (American Red Cross). The machines, which cost about $2,300 on average, use voice prompts to guide the rescuer. Although AEDs are relatively easy to use, training is necessary, just as with CPR.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, recent state laws encourage wider AED availability. In April 1997, Florida became the first state to enact a broad public access law. As of mid-2001, all 50 states had passed defibrillator laws or adopted regulations. In 2004, AED laws were changed or expanded in Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma and Rhode Island. The Illinois law requires every fitness facility to have at least one AED on the premises, with exceptions. The New York and Rhode Island laws now require health clubs to have at least one AED.
Cirulli, a fitness industry veteran, can’t say for sure that AEDs will be mandated in all fitness facilities, but he certainly encourages it. “It’s a very simple device to use, and it just makes sense to have them on-site,” he says. “When you see someone come back to life, you understand how important AEDs are. Now every time I see the member who was lying on the floor that day, he doesn’t just say hi and shake my hand; he gives me a big hug.”
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