News For New York City Hearts

by James S. Oddo

A couple of years ago, a University of San Diego study found that residents of New York were 55 percent more likely to die of a heart attack than people living in other U.S. cities. One thing was certain: If you suffered sudden cardiac arrest in the City of New York just about anywhere but in a hospital, the likelihood would be that you were going to die.

The answer to this disturbing phenomenon seems to be one that has been adopted in other cities across the nation, while New York lags behind the curve, and that is to placing life-saving Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) in public buildings throughout the city.

About 1,000 people a day die of sudden cardiac arrest--an electrical malfunction of the heart that causes its pumping function to cease abruptly. The key factor in surviving is time, and getting defibrillated as quickly as possible.

The chance of successful resuscitation falls 10 percent each minute after the attack. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that in New York City, where the average time from patient collapse to delivery of the first shock is more than 12 minutes, only one percent of patients survive sudden cardiac arrest.

Defibrillation is essential. Technological advances have turned these once bulky, complex defibrillators into lightweight devices the size of a notebook that almost anyone can operate. The new machines can sense irregular heart rhythms, assess whether an electrical jolt is necessary, determine the level of the electrical shock and deliver it through the chest wall to restore a normal heart beat. The machine gives simple voice instruction and will not shock a person who does not need it.

I drafted Int. 448, legislation that would require the City of New York to make AEDs readily accessible in certain public places, such as Borough Hall; City Hall; public golf courses; skating rinks; stadiums; public beaches; airports; cultural institutions; hotels; shopping centers; and transportation hubs, such as Grand Central Station. Studies have shown that these locations have the highest incidence of sudden cardiac arrest.

Dr. Myron Weisfeldt, chair of the Department of Medicine at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center and a nationally renowned expert on cardiac arrest and defibrillation calls this legislation "simple and direct" and believes it "would accomplish a great deal for survival of victims of sudden cardiac arrest in this city."

Although the Council Health Committee has convened a hearing on this bill, I allocated $50,000 toward the purchase of these devices, which was included in the city's budget adopted last July, so that I could begin the process of identifying and placing AEDs at locations such as the local YMCA, ferry boats and terminals, local stadiums and recreation centers in an effort to save lives today.

To my delight Mayor Rudolph Giuliani recently announced during his eighth and final "State of the City" address that the city would invest $4 million to purchase 2,000 defibrillators to be placed in public places like city office buildings, courthouses, and train stations.

Now I am advocating for the placement of AEDs on athletic fields. Numerous deaths are attributed to a blow to the chest by lacrosse balls, baseballs and hockey pucks in children under the age of 16. Even a moderate blow from a ball to the chest, if struck at precisely the wrong moment in the heartbeat cycle, can result in commotio cordis, or "concussion of the heart," and can be fatal. The blow causes the heart to quiver, rather than beat steadily, resulting in ventricular fibrillation, which requires immediate electrical shock that can be delivered via a defibrillator.

Joining me in the effort to demonstrate just how serious this problem has become, is Karen Acompora, the mother of Louis Acompora, a 14-year-old Long Island lacrosse player, who died during a game after being struck in the chest by a lacrosse ball, despite wearing a chest protector.

Dr. Robert Gotlin, Director of Orthopedic and Sports Rehabilitation at Beth Israel, who is a renowned expert in the field of sports medicine and who coaches seven youth sports teams, has been advocating for the placement of defibrillators at sports-related facilities for years. "The absence of such devices on athletic playing fields will hinder the chance a successful outcome if the child suffers a heart injury," he says. "And so it is imperative that our local and national officials dedicate adequate resources to allow the purchase and distribution of these resources on the playing field."

It is my hope that defibrillators will become as commonplace as fire extinguishers, and their value realized. Why wait? Every day that we wait to install these devices at locations where over 360,000 Americans experience sudden cardiac arrest annually, is a day that we needlessly lose another life.

James Oddo, Republican City Councilmember from the 50th District in Staten Island, is a member of the Council Health Committee

Click to see Nadia Aguilar's story

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