Know Your AED’s: Defibrillators Save Lives

Jennifer Terry, Heart Patient

Jennifer Terry

On June 13, 2008, 36-year-old Jennifer Terry "died" while at work. A mother of three with no health problems, she simply collapsed at her desk at about 10 a.m. One of her co-workers heard a "snore-like" noise and laughed, asking, "Who’s sleeping?" When no one responded, she turned and saw Jennifer slumped over, wedged between her desk and her chair.

By this time, 90 seconds had passed. Jennifer had turned blue and was unresponsive. A coworker rushed to Jennifer’s side and began CPR while another colleague retrieved the portable automated external defibrillator (AED) from the break room.

Luck was on Jennifer’s side that day: A defibrillator was immediately on hand, as was someone who knew how to use it. Most people with sudden cardiac arrest, or SCA, are not so fortunate.

During sudden cardiac arrest, the heart stops beating due to an irregularity in its rhythm. The AED is a computerized device that gives the heart an electric shock to restore its normal pattern. The device checks a person’s heart rhythm, recognizes if it requires a shock, and “treats” the patient accordingly.

Jennifer later learned that stress cardiomyopathy had been responsible for her sudden cardiac arrest. In her case, an upsetting incident caused a flood of stress hormones (such as adrenaline) to temporarily stun the cells of her heart. Unable to pump blood properly, her heart filled with excess blood (called congestive heart failure). Blood flow to her brain and organs stopped, and she lost consciousness. But there were no warning signs prior to the incident that day. Her coronary arteries were clean and healthy, and her heart muscle was strong and undamaged.

If the AED had not been on hand that day, Jennifer would not be here to tell her story.

After waking up at Sky Ridge Medical Center, Jennifer joked with the nurses and her family. Had she laughed a bit that morning, her doctors say, the chemicals in her heart likely would have never reached the near-fatal levels they did. Jennifer has taken the lesson to heart, adopting some new habits and taking better care of herself today. She and her husband are expecting their fourth child early this summer (2009).