My husband, Bob, used to refer to the automated external defibrillator (AED) that I bought for our house as “the $1,500 shelf ornament.”
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He thought it was a complete waste of money. But I wanted it because we live so far from emergency medical care.
In December 2011, that shelf ornament saved my husband’s life.
Bob and I were outside our three-unit motel. We live in tiny Coalmont, BC, population 85, where we’re the proud owners of the Mozey-On-Inn. That day we were shovelling the driveway to get ready for guests.
Bob, then 63, shovelled near the bottom of the driveway, and I was clearing the heavy snow near the door. I turned and noticed that Bob had fallen. I assumed it was because his replacement knee gave out. I even joked with him to get back up. But he didn’t respond.
I ran down the driveway, turned him over and saw that his eyes were rolled back in his head. I hurried inside to call 911. Meanwhile our neighbours rushed over and began performing CPR on Bob.
When I heard someone shout, “There’s no pulse! He’s not breathing!” I shoved the phone in my pocket, grabbed the defibrillator and ran to Bob’s side. I put the phone on the ground so the operator could hear us.
As we placed the electrode pads on Bob’s chest, the AED began analyzing his condition and giving audio instructions.
It said to stand back and administer the first shock, so I pushed the button. After a second shock, Bob suddenly took a gulp of breath and opened his eyes. But we weren’t out of the woods yet. Bob’s breathing was raspy and even though his eyes were open, he wasn’t responding. I got blankets and we tried to keep him warm while we waited.
The ambulance was on its way but had to travel more than 20 kilometres over icy roads. Finally, 45 minutes later, the paramedics loaded Bob into the ambulance. I followed with a neighbour to the hospital in Princeton, the nearest town.
After a stop at the regional hospital, Bob was sent for in-depth testing at Vancouver General Hospital, where he would stay for a week. The tests showed that Bob’s heart was actually in great shape, with next to no clogs in his arteries. But doctors eventually found the problem: His heart wasn’t sending the right electrical signals to keep a steady beat.
Bob had an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) installed. It’s a small, battery-powered device that sends an electrical impulse to his heart if it starts to beat an abnormal rhythm. It was a surprisingly minor operation. Bob was released the day after his surgery.
More than two years later, Bob is doing well. He lost 15 pounds, and his ICD has never had to do anything (but it is a nice insurance policy).
To make sure it’s working well, Bob uses a special device to send regular readings from his ICD to the regional hospital’s heart clinic. They still want to see Bob once a year in person, but having this great device means we don’t have to drive to Penticton in the winter months.
Bob has the OK to shovel snow again, in moderation. And he no longer makes jokes about our AED. Now he’ll tell anyone who will listen that all small communities should have an AED at a central location and everyone should know where it is.