During Mass in March at Our Lady of the Americas Parish in Rochester, Francisco Solaún lost consciousness, went gray and collapsed, said his wife, Esther.
The collapse, one of several at church and at home, was caused by an abnormal heart rhythm, and Solaún has since been treated for the problem. Yet the fear of another cardiac incident lingers, his wife said.
"It’s a very scary thing because you don’t know what is going to happen," Esther Solaún said.
New efforts to expand the use of automated external defibrillators in parishes and other places aim to take some of the fear out of cardiac emergencies.
New state legislation dubbed the Good Samaritan AED bill has big implications for New Yorkers attempting to use AEDs in public. At present, only those with current CPR and AED certification can use a defibrillator on the general public, but advocates say the devices are simple enough for all to use.
The state Assembly and Senate agreed, both passing a bill in mid-June to allow all to use AEDs. At press time July 1, Gov. David Paterson had not signed the bill into law. The bill also expands liability protections, noting that liability concerns may have deterred Good Samaritans from using AEDs.
Father Vincent Panepinto, pastor of Our Lady of the Americas Parish, pointed out that in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), a Samaritan stops and provides medical care for a Jewish man beaten by robbers and left for dead.
"We are being called upon to give medical attention to those in need, even if you do not know the person," he said.
That also is the message from the American Heart Association, which notes that widespread knowledge of CPR and AEDs placed in additional public locations could save some of the nearly 300,000 victims of out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest each year; currently, about 8 percent of those victims survive.
During sudden cardiac arrest, electrical impulses in the heart cause the heartbeat to become rapid or chaotic. Experts note that a heart attack is different; during a heart attack, blood supply to part of the heart muscle is blocked. However, a heart attack may cause sudden cardiac arrest.
The heart association said bystanders can help increase the odds of survival by providing CPR, which helps maintain oxygen flow, and, if available, defibrillation using an AED, which shocks a heart to get it to work properly.
The odds of survival decrease by 10 percent every minute until a defibrillator is used, said Amit Chitre, regional vice president of communications and marketing for the American Heart Association. He noted that an AED won’t deliver an electrical shock if a shock is not required.
"When you have to use (an AED), it obviously is a very stressful situation, and it gives you step-by-step instructions," said Kim Basta, a nurse practitioner who is the director of transitional care for St. Ann’s Community and who has used defibrillators on patients.
Several parishes in the diocese say they have purchased AEDs. Churches are candidates for AEDs because they are gathering places and often attract an aging population, said Paul Stumpf of Canadice, who has been helping to research the purchase of AEDs for St. Matthew Parish in Livonia and St. Mary Parish in Honeoye. Stumpf credits his wife, Sharyl, an EMT, with suggesting these two parishes purchase AEDs.
Paul Stumpf said New York has many regulations on AEDs available for public use; his parishes have been working with an AED consulting company to streamline the purchase process. The state requires an emergency-care agreement from a doctor or hospital, training for potential AED users, signs for the device, and notifications for the state department of health, emergency medical services officials and 911.
"It’s a lot of work," Stumpf said. "It’s a big deal. It doesn’t seem like it at first."
Although New York’s new Good Samaritan AED bill could relieve liability concerns for individuals, parishes could still be liable if they do not follow the state regulations, experts said.
"(Parishes) are more likely to be sued if they have an AED, and no one knows where it is and no one knows how to use it," said Marcia Van Vechten, sales consultant for the Red Cross.
Some parishes say that affordability is a barrier to acquiring and maintaining an AED, which typically costs between $1,000 and $3,000. Training costs, new batteries, pads and minor maintenance may add to the total.
Yet some financial help is available. New York state offers a $500 tax credit for AEDs that can be used by the public. Some nonprofits also offer grants and discounts on AEDs and training.
Individual parishioners also may donate money for the purchase of AEDs or for CPR training. That was the case at Sacred Heart and St. Ann parishes in Auburn and Owasco, whose parishioners donated money to purchase AEDs after a person had a cardiac emergency during Mass, said Jackie Whatman, secretary for the parishes.
"They were able to buy both of them (AEDs) for us," said Whatman, who noted that one of the AEDs was used during a resuscitation attempt at a bingo event.
A local couple said having an AED and knowing CPR are worth any cost when a loved one’s life is on the line. Paul Pakusch, a graduate of Our Mother of Sorrows School in Greece, said he felt helpless not having learned CPR when his wife, Mary, went into sudden cardiac arrest in 2006. A 911 dispatcher guided him through the process.
"I can honestly say I hope I never do (CPR) again," said Paul Pakusch, who speaks locally on CPR and AEDs for the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association.
Mary Pakusch, who suffered minimal effects from the incident thanks to cutting-edge treatments and defibrillation eight minutes after her collapse, said she believes AEDs should be in more public places, and everyone should learn CPR.
"It’s a relatively simple thing to do that could save someone, and most often you could save someone you know," she said.