A nonprofit committed to saving lives by installing portable defibrillators in public spaces is making its mark on Mountain View this month as part of a pilot program to bring more than 40 Auto External Defibrillators (AEDs) to locations all over the city.
Racing Hearts, a health and safety nonprofit, is on a mission to make AEDs available to the public. A defibrillator can be used to get a heart pumping again and greatly increase the rate of survival of a person who has a heart attack and whose heart stops beating.
More than 350,000 people in the United States die from sudden cardiac arrest each year -- roughly equal to the number of people killed by firearms, house fires, car accidents, suicides, breast cancer, cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease and HIV combined, according to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation.
In partnership with the city of Mountain View, Santa Clara County, El Camino Hospital and both Mountain View school districts, Racing Hearts will be installing 46 AEDs across the city, including parks, schools and police cars.
Stephanie Martinson, who started Racing Hearts two years ago, has worked with the nonprofit to place more than 150 AEDs in the Bay Area. Martinson focused primarily on Palo Alto and the under-served, at-risk communities in East Palo Alto at first, and now she wants to expand that AED presence into Mountain View.
The partnership with the county and Mountain View agencies was largely orchestrated by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian. Simitian said he had been in touch with Racing Hearts since he came back as supervisor in 2013, and that he was aware of the good work Martinson and the nonprofit had done to expand the availability of AEDs in Palo Alto.
A member of the county health and hospital committee, Simitian said it seemed like a "wonderful" opportunity to bring the success that Racing Hearts experienced in Palo Alto to other parts of the county. Simitian proposed starting a pilot program to bring AEDs to Mountain View.
"In chatting with Stephanie, I said I was interested in Mountain View, and she said 'so are we,'" Simitian said.
The Board of Supervisors approved a budget item that would put $50,000 towards purchasing AEDs for Mountain View. On top of that, Simitian asked agencies in the city to match the funding, and convinced the city to contribute $26,000. El Camino Hospital also contributed $25,000, and both of the city's school districts contributed $10,000 each -- more than a match, Simitian said.
At the Oct. 9 Mountain View Whisman school board meeting, Superintendent Craig Goldman said he appreciated Martinson's effort to get defibrillators placed at all the Mountain View schools. "We're extremely grateful," Goldman said. "Stephanie has really headed up what seems to be a one-woman campaign to get AEDs at our school sites."
Defibrillator locations include one at each of the elementary schools, two at each middle school and three at each high school. AEDs will also be at the snack shacks at McKelvey park and the Cuesta Park tennis courts.
The money will also go towards five years of maintenance and any needed replacements for the AEDs.
"We didn't want to just go out and acquire the devices and have them just sort of sit there," Simitian said. "It's not a one-off -- it's a longer term commitment."
A life-saving tool
Defibrillators can play an important role in saving someone suffering from sudden cardiac arrest, and having one close-by can make a big difference. Dr. Chad Rammohan, a physician and medical director of the El Camino Hospital Chest Pain Center, said AEDs deliver a shock to restore the normal rhythm of a heart beat. He said the heart rhythm experiences something similar to a "short circuit" and begins to beat so fast it stops, and the shock applied by the AED breaks that short circuit and brings back a normal heart rhythm.
Response time is a key component for treating sudden cardiac arrest. "The faster the better," Rammohan said. "The clock starts as soon as the heart stops."
Rammohan cited a study that found the rate of survival "with intact neurological function" is more than three times higher among people who were treated with an AED available on site at the time of sudden cardiac arrest than people who were not.
According to the American Heart Association, every minute that passes without CPR or defibrillation decreases the chance of survival by 7 to 10 percent.
Traditionally, Rammohan said, it was typical to have a bystander perform CPR until an ambulance carrying a defibrillator arrived, and that the real role of CPR was to manually pump blood until that happened. Having a readily available AED means delivering the shock in a fraction of the time it takes for an ambulance to arrive, which can increase the chances of survival.
The AEDs installed in Mountain View use foolproof technology, allowing anyone to use it in the event of sudden cardiac arrest. Martinson said the defibrillators come with voice instructions, along with stickers and visual queues, that guide you through all the steps. The AEDs analyze the heart rhythm and determine whether or not the person needs a shock.
"It won't shock if they don't need it," Martinson said
Simitian said the current state-of-the-art AED technology is very easy to use and something people should not be reluctant to pick up. "The systems are essentially fail-safe and walk you through the process," Simitian said.
Education a key component
Racing Hearts isn't just about getting more AEDs slapped onto the walls of gyms, libraries and parks. Martinson said the group is also looking to spread awareness, and get people talking about where their nearest AED is, and how they would handle an emergency situation.
The Racing Hearts website has what's called an "AEDSpotter," a map system set up by Martinson to show where AEDs are located across the Bay Area, denoted by giant pink pins. The information is all crowd-sourced, meaning people volunteer to record the exact location of the AED, as well as a picture of the defibrillator, for each location.
The map shows a significant number of AEDs installed in Palo Alto, specifically on the Stanford campus, and fewer in Mountain View in Sunnyvale.
As a kick-off event to introduce the 46 new AEDs, the city of Mountain View will hold a hands-on CPR class for fourth- and fifth-graders at Landels Elementary School on Monday, Nov. 17, at 1 p.m. The class will also include an introduction to AEDs and how to use them, according to Mountain View Fire spokeswoman Jaime Garrett.
At the event, Garrett said, students will be walked through the steps on how to open the AED unit and put the defibrillator pads on mannequins.