AEDs: They're handy, and can save lives | February 7, 2018 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - February 7, 2018

AEDs: They're handy, and can save lives

The Woodside fire district's next AED-use class is Saturday, Feb. 10, in Redwood City.

by Kate Daly

A former Menlo School mom recalls watching a basketball game soon after the gym opened on the Atherton campus, when suddenly a referee collapsed on the court and doctors leapt off the bleachers to grab the newly installed Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to shock him and save his life. Eventually, paramedics arrived on the scene.

AEDs may be a common sight at school and community gyms, tracks and fields, and some offices and airports in the area, yet many people wouldn't think to use them because they are mistakenly under the impression that formal training is needed. The fact is the medical devices are both easy and effective to use.

Woodside Fire Protection District Chief Dan Ghiorso is a great believer in AEDs ever since he used one on a referee suffering from sudden cardiac arrest at a ballpark in Foster City.

Sudden cardiac arrest is caused by an abnormal heart rhythm, usually ventricular fibrillation, where the heart is unable to pump blood to the body and brain, making a person lose pulse, consciousness, and the ability to breathe. A defibrillator works by delivering an electrical shock to the heart to stun it momentarily, giving it a chance to return to a normal rhythm.

Sudden cardiac arrest is quite different from a heart attack, where a blocked artery leads to symptoms of pain, nausea and/or sweating in an alert person.

The American Heart Association estimates hundreds of thousands of people die from sudden cardiac arrest in this country every year, and that for every minute defibrillation is delayed, the chance for survival drops by 7 to 10 percent.

In the Woodside Fire Protection District all three stations have additional AEDs posted outside for public use. The boxes are checked on a monthly basis to make sure the batteries are working and the pads are fresh.

Chief Ghiorso says those AEDs are "are a full-proof system ... a voice tells you what to do, put patches on, or to wait and do CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)."

One of the first prompts is a recorded voice explaining how to connect the AED by placing adhesive pads with electrodes on the person's chest. A computerized program then analyzes the heart's rhythm and indicates if the user should press a button to deliver a shock. In some cases the prompt may say use CPR instead.

One of the fire district's goals is to increase awareness of sudden cardiac arrest and improve public access to defibrillators. Chief Ghiorso says he'd like to see more AEDs located in places where people exercise, such as hiking trails. Studies show a history of heart disease is more of a risk factor than strenuous exercise for sudden cardiac arrest, but there can be a correlation.

The fire district periodically offers classes in first aid and CPR. The next one that includes AED instruction is on Saturday, Feb. 10, from 1 to 4:30 p.m. at Fire Station Number 19, 4091 Jefferson Ave. in Redwood City.

To register or for more information go to

Chief Ghiorso is also a fan of PulsePoint, a nonprofit foundation based in the Bay Area that offers a free smart phone app showing where registered AEDs are located. He figures there are "hundreds in San Mateo County" alone.

Portola Valley Town Center has two AEDs available to the public — one installed in Community Hall and one just outside facing the sports field.

Workers at Arrillaga Family Gymnasium in Menlo Park say their AED has been used only once since the doors opened in 2010.

During a recent mid-day basketball game there an adult stopped playing to declare that everybody ought to know how to use an AED. When he was in the military and using an AED, he ran into trouble because he missed a step. He's relieved to see AEDs have evolved to be more user-friendly and widespread.


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