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Published December 29, 2012, 11:30 PM

Robin Huebner Reports: AEDs saving lives in Fargo-Moorhead

FARGO - A device plucked from a dim hallway in the back of a downtown bus station helped save a Fargo woman’s life during a parade this holiday season.

By: Robin Huebner, INFORUM

FARGO - A device plucked from a dim hallway in the back of a downtown bus station helped save a Fargo woman’s life during a parade this holiday season.

Without it, she likely wouldn’t have been around to celebrate Christmas with her two children and four grandchildren.

After the woman collapsed from a heart attack, bystanders performed CPR while a police officer retrieved an automated external defibrillator, or AED, and shocked the woman’s heart back to normal rhythm.

Now, a big push is on to place more AEDs in the community, including in private businesses, and to make people more aware of their locations through smartphone technology.

It could also involve a system in which Good Samaritans trained in CPR are summoned to a nearby emergency.

Timing is everything when it comes to surviving cardiac arrest.

“In Fargo, we have more than 100 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests every year,” said Fargo fire Capt. Craig Nelson.

He said without timely intervention, only 1 to 3 percent of victims survive.

Survivor’s story

Roxanne Burnside, of Fargo, is lucky. She’s one of the few to receive both CPR and an AED shock shortly after a heart attack.

Her survival story begins the evening of Nov. 20 at the downtown Fargo Holiday Lights Parade.

Burnside was dressed in an elf costume, handing out candy and walking with co-workers alongside the float for Bell State Bank, where she works as a receptionist.

“I was having a blast. It was a beautiful night, and we had walked all the way from Moorhead,” she said. “Just before turning onto Broadway (in Fargo) I got really dizzy.

“All of a sudden, I saw a flash of white light and thought ‘Oh God, I’m going down.’ ”

Burnside collapsed in front of two registered nurses who were watching the parade. Nicole Christensen and Cindy Troftgruben, along with family physician Lara Lunde, who was nearby, began performing CPR.

Shawn Gamradt, a downtown Fargo resource officer, was posted a half-block away at the intersection of Broadway and NP Avenue. His main duty had been kicking candy toward children along the parade route so they wouldn’t run into the street.

When he heard the call about someone in distress, he ran over.

“One of the nurses looked up and said, ‘I need an AED!’ ” Gamradt said.

At first, he considered running for the portable AED in his squad car at the police station but figured it was too far. Then he thought about other police units parked in mini-garages next to the Metro Area Transit station, but knew he didn’t have the right keys.

Then he thought of the MAT bus station itself, just a block and a half away. “All public places have them,” he thought to himself.

He was right. Gamradt grabbed the AED from the bus station dispatcher and sprinted back to Burnside.

That’s when his training kicked in.

At first, he thought the machine wasn’t going to work because it went into default mode.

“But then I thought back to when FM ambulance explained to us, you can’t touch or move the person while the AED is analyzing. I turned it back on, it said ‘shock advised,’ so I shocked her,” said Gamradt.

In the seconds that followed, he thought Burnside had died. Instead, he looked down and saw that she had regained consciousness and was trying to talk.

The next thing Burnside remembers is waking up in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

Doctors placed two stents in her blocked arteries the next day, and the 62-year-old, whom friends call “Roxy,” went home from the hospital on Thanksgiving night.

“Most things don’t end that way,” Gamradt said. “Usually, it’s a matter of too little, too late.”

“Several things happen in your career that define who you are,” he said. “This is definitely the highlight.”

If there’s any doubt that everything transpired just as it should in order to save Roxy Burnside, there’s this to consider.

Fargo fire Capt. Ron Guggisberg said as part of a new program, fire crews are checking AEDs during their annual fire inspections.

An inspection at the bus station just a few weeks before the rescue found the AED wasn’t working.

The device received a new battery, making it poised and ready to save the life of a spunky grandmother on a festive November night.

ABCs of AEDs

The cost of an AED ranges from $1,000 for a basic model, all the way up to about $3,000 for the most advanced models.

While it’s ideal for a person to be trained in operating one, they’re designed for anyone to use.

“They really are that easy. Truly, a kindergartner could figure it out,” said Holly Scott.

Scott was hired in 2001 to coordinate Dakota Medical Foundation’s AED program, which is now managed by Fargo Cass Public Health.

She said all the operator has to do is turn the AED on, and the machine prompts every move through voice activation. Once pads are placed on the victim’s chest, the device analyzes their heart rhythm.

There’s no way for the AED user to accidentally harm the victim.

“If the machine does not detect a shockable rhythm, it won’t deliver a shock,” said Scott.

AEDs in transition

Most of the AEDs in the F-M metro area and beyond were strategically placed in ambulances, police and fire vehicles, churches, schools and other public places, thanks to Dakota Medical Foundation, or DMF.

According to DMF, since 2000 it has invested more than $1.3 million in AED equipment and training. It lists nearly 550 AEDs placed across eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, with 25 lives saved by the devices.

Scott said over the years, they had far more requests for AEDs than they could fund.

While the AED grant funding through DMF recently came to an end, Scott is helping mesh the nonprofit side of it with a new focus on for-profit businesses.

HeartSafe Fargo

Essentia Health and the Fargo Fire Department have teamed up to start HeartSafe Fargo, a program aimed at increasing AED and CPR access and training in local businesses.

After the rescue at the Holiday Lights Parade, “We saw a spike in requests,” said Jon Benson, Essentia Health Regional Foundation director.

They’re building a network, Benson said, “So that no matter where we go, we’re within a very short distance of an AED.”

The Fargo Fire Department lists some 360 AEDs placed in private businesses.

Benson said at a cost of $1,395 through HeartSafe Fargo, businesses receive a Zoll AED unit, first responders kit, wall-mounted cabinet with alarm, and training for two people per AED in infant, child and adult CPR and choking.

Businesses have to commit to keeping the equipment maintained. The fire department inspects the units annually.

In addition to allowing businesses to invest in their employees, the general public benefits.

“If you walk by an office building and see the HeartSafe logo, you know an AED is inside,” Benson said.

Holly Scott said she also refers businesses that want to buy an AED to Stellar Medical and Equipment of Fargo.

Owner Dave Rud said some of the AED models placed years ago are being phased out to make way for newer technology, but trade-in opportunities can ease the transition.

“We offer rebate and recycling programs,” Rud said. “We’re trying to make it easier for the end user to have that device.”

Smartphone Samaritans

The business of saving lives is also coming to your smartphone.

Guggisberg said HeartSafe Fargo is collaborating with North Dakota State University’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department to develop a smartphone app that will show users where the closest AED is located in case of emergency.

Another key feature is connecting, through global positioning technology, people who need CPR to people who are trained in it. A Good Samaritan volunteer could sign up to be notified through their smartphone of a nearby emergency.

Similar technology is already used in San Ramon Valley, California, and Erlanger, Ky., through the Apple iPhone Pulse Point app.

While the technology is out there, HeartSafe Fargo wants its own app, so it can customize and expand it.

“Maybe it could even be used when we need emergency responders to help build sandbag dikes,” Guggisberg said.

He said they want the app up and running by mid- 2013.

The goal is to give everyone who suffers cardiac arrest the best shot at survival, like Roxy Burnside had.

She feels like God has a plan, whether it’s for her to take better care of herself or help her fellow citizens.

“I feel perfectly blessed,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Robin Huebner at (701) 451-5607