UT Southwestern researchers find automated external defibrilators are safe and effective aboard airplanes

DALLAS - Oct. 26, 2000 - Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have found that a device which can be used by airline flight crews can save the lives of sudden cardiac arrest victims aboard aircraft as well as be used for monitoring patients.

Doctors said 40 percent of those who were treated with the four-pound Automated External Defibrillator (AED) survived during a two-year study involving American Airlines. Their findings were published in today's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The four-pound unit, like larger versions found in ambulances, clinics and hospitals, is used to restore cardiac activity with an electrical shock and monitor the heart. But unlike those used by doctors, nurses and paramedics, the smaller device is automated and requires less training to use safely.

"The AED figures out what it is supposed to do after it is connected to the patient," said Dr. Richard Page, the study's lead author and director of clinical cardiac electrophysiology at UT Southwestern.

AEDs were first put on over-water flights and then added to all other American Airline flights. Flight attendants received four hours of classroom and workshop instruction followed annually by a refresher course and examination.

Dr. Page, an associate professor of medicine, said a means of treating sudden cardiac arrest victims aboard airliners has been needed for years. "This is an isolated environment. If something goes wrong, there's not a backup immediately available. After 10 minutes, your chance of survival is extremely small. When you're in an aircraft and even if it is close to landing, that may take at least 20 minutes. If you get to someone fast, you have a high chance of resuscitation."

Sudden cardiac arrest is usually due to ventricular fibrillation - a chaotic rhythm of the ventricle. "Once it occurs, chances of survival are reduced about 10 percent every minute after arrest," Page said. Sudden cardiac arrest is the le

Contact: Amy Shields
UT Southwestern Medical Center

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