Lifesaving devices locked away, survivor says make them more visible

Lifesaving devices locked away, survivor says make them more visible
Bill Hughes (Source: Sports Backers)
Bill Hughes (Source: Sports Backers)

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - More than 300,000 people collapse each year in a public place from a heart attack. What if the one device that could help save your life is locked away or in a room next door and no one knows it? It's a troubling trend across Richmond.

The Monument Avenue 10K is one of Richmond's signature sporting events. Runners strive for a great time, but 60-year-old Bill Hughes set a record: he ran it in 50 days, 7 hours.

On April 9, at mile marker 3, running next to his daughter Bethany Gordon, he collapsed.

"He face-planted, and then I heard somebody say his chest isn't rising," says Gordon.

"I'm dead basically," said Hughes.

"I was like, 'he's going to be fine. he's going to be fine,'" said Gordon.

Thankfully for Bill, his fellow runners stopped in their tracks and started life-saving CPR.

"He was not breathing and did not have a pulse when I arrived," said Matt Howell, a 10-year firefighter and paramedic.

Howell got his hands on an automated external defibrillator, also called an  AED.

"We shocked him one time and kind of helped direct the other folks to start CPR again," said Howell.

Bill was breathing again in two minutes. AEDs are portable devices that automatically diagnose life-threatening cardiac arrest and deliver a shock to the heart.

Last year, more than 326,000 people collapsed from a heart attack in a public place. The average survival rate is just 11% with medical treatment. However, nearly 1 in 3 victims survived when the cardiac arrest was witnessed by a bystander.

"Sadly, cardiac survival statistics are not good. We are facing an uphill struggle," said Rob Lawrence with the Richmond Ambulance Authority.

For ever minute that passes for a heart attack victim, survival drops by 10 percent.

Researchers in Toronto recently discovered about 1 in every 5 AED's are locked away or inaccessible when needed most. NBC12 visited dozens of local and state government buildings, malls, classrooms, libraries across central Virginia. About 25 percent of the time, we couldn't find the AED without asking a lot of questions.

For example, AED's are on just about every other floor of 17-story Richmond City Hall. Clearly visible, right off the elevators. But we couldn't find an AED at the Library of Virginia - until a guard told us they are kept at their stations or in an office.

The AED's were clearly marked at the VCU Student Commons. We couldn't find them in any of the classroom buildings.

Same for area malls, without asking the main office where they are kept.

A clearly-marked AED box at the drug court in downtown Richmond was empty inside. After tracking down a manager, we were told the actual AED was locked in an office.

"The more that we see them visible and available, the better the outcomes will become," said Lawrence.

Bill Hughes knows better than most the importance of an AED in those precious seconds between life and death.

"I'm just glad that I'm finally closing that chapter. So I can move on," said Hughes.

Bill believes if we all took a second to learn CPR, we could all be on pace to one day safe a life.

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