When a medical emergency strikes, there is no time to waste. While you should always call 911, you should also plan to take action yourself, if you’re able. Depending on where a medical emergency occurs, an automated external defibrillator (AED) may be present. This lightweight, portable device delivers an electric shock through the chest and to the heart of a victim, helping save someone’s life in the event of sudden cardiac arrest.

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) can occur when the heart unexpectedly stops beating normally. It is one of the leading causes of death in Canada, affecting more than 40,000 people each year, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. When this happens and it is not immediately treated, the event can be fatal. Unfortunately, the average response time for first responders to arrive on the scene once 911 is called is 8 to 12 minutes.

The good news is that an AED may help prevent death in these situations. Many places of business (schools, airports, shopping malls, hotels, and similar) carry this equipment, usually located near the fire extinguisher. An AED, which is portable, makes it possible for someone to respond to a medical emergency when defibrillation is required. These devices can be used by nonmedical personnel including everyday citizens who have been trained in CPR. Formal training on the AED isn’t required, but it is strongly recommended.

An AED relies on a built-in computer that checks a victim’s heart rhythm. The computer is able to calculate whether or not defibrillation is needed. In the event defibrillation is needed, a voice will prompt the user to press the shock button on the AED. The shock stuns the heart and gives the heart a chance to resume normal rhythm. This may need to happen several times.  

While in an ideal situation a medical professional would quickly handle an SCA event, this isn’t always possible. Everyday citizens should also be prepared to act quickly in the event of an emergency. This begins with signing up for a local CPR class, where you will be taught CPR basics and how to use life-saving equipment such as an AED.