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AEDs save lives in city

| Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, 9:02 p.m.

Carol Lewis of Greensburg learned firsthand how important an AED can be.

“If it wasn't for that, I wouldn't be here today. I know that,” Lewis said. “It saved my life.”

Lewis, who lives in Saybrook Village, is one of at least 10 people in the Greensburg area who has been saved because of an AED in the last three years, city officials estimated. They do not keep specific figures.

AEDs, or automatic external defibrillators, are used most commonly in cases of cardiac arrest caused by ventricular fibrillation — when the heart muscle begins to quiver and stops pumping. An AED is most effective if used within the first six minutes of cardiac arrest.

Greensburg police have turned to an AED about 15 to 20 times in the last two years, although they didn't have to ultimately use the device in all those cases, Capt. George Seranko said.

“I know several times we happened to save an individual,” he said.

In 2006, Greensburg officials distributed 20 AEDs, which consists of a defibrillator, pads and connecting wires, for free to various locations in the city based on probability of use.

Saybrook Village Homeowners Association bought four additional ones out of concern about the plan's three-mile distance from downtown Greensburg. Lewis was saved by one of those AEDs.

Officials at Mutual Aid Ambulance, based in Greensburg, used a Richard King Mellon Foundation grant to distribute nearly 125 AEDs to fire and police departments throughout Westmoreland County about two years ago, said Rodger Gennaro, ambulance service medical compliance officer.

His agency doesn't track how often an AED revives a person, but Gennaro estimated that an AED goes out with firefighters or police at least once per day in the Greensburg area for a person who is unconscious and may need the device.

After police or firefighters use the AED, paramedics begin more advanced treatment, or they start that treatment if they arrive before firefighters or police, Gennaro said.

Lewis was saved on Sept. 9, 2009, after neighbors Ron and Renee Berberick performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, and neighbors Rob Mattes and Bill Krulack used the AED.

Lewis was on a ventilator and put in a coma in Excela Health Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg. She underwent a treatment — therapeutic hypothermia — that lowered her body temperature to 86 degrees and helped to save her live.

Even today, Lewis can't remember that September night.

“Most of what I know is from the people who helped me and from my kids,” she said.

Mattes, a Greensburg firefighter, said another person was revived last spring in a city parking lot.

“He was gone, and they brought him back,” he said.

“They definitely get used,” Greensburg City Administrator Sue Trout said.

Training on use of the devices is periodically held throughout the city.

“We've never had to use it, fortunately,” said Michael Langer, president of the Westmoreland Cultural Trust. The Palace Theatre and the Greensburg Garden and Civic Center, both popular gathering places managed by the trust, have AEDs.

“They're all in working order,” Langer added. “We inspect them and we trained everyone on it initially.”

Trust officials will hold another training session early next year, Langer said.

The devices haven't been used inside Greensburg Salem high or middle schools, Superintendent Eileen Amato said.

“We have not needed to use them, although there have been times where the equipment was taken from the box and carried to the site where someone was distressed. Luckily, the symptoms never progress to where they've been used,” she said.

John Rohl, manager of the Main Bowling Alley, offered similar findings.

“We have not, thank God, had to use it,” he said.

City fire Chief J. Edward Hutchinson said he's glad fire vehicles are equipped with the devices, whether they get used or not.

His firefighters went out to assist ambulance personnel 23 times in October for calls where an AED might have been needed, Hutchinson said.

People at the 20 Greensburg places where the AEDs were distributed agreed to maintain them, Trout said.

“At the time they were dispensed they received training on how to use the AEDs, and it was up to them to maintain the batteries and pads,” Trout said. “To the best of my knowledge, they do.”

Lewis hopes so.

“People are still amazed, and I am, too,” she said of her recovery. “I'm doing very well.”

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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