At the heart of the matter

Defibrillator to be installed at Duncan McArthur gymnasium

Defibrillators increase a person’s chance of survival significantly after they suffer cardiac arrest.
Defibrillators increase a person’s chance of survival significantly after they suffer cardiac arrest.

As fencing practice ended on the night of Jan. 27, head coach Hugh Munby looked across Duncan McArthur Hall gymnasium to see that a member of his club, a Queen’s professor emeritus, had suffered ventricular fibrillation. Ventricular fibrillation is a potentially life-threatening abnormal heart rhythm which leads to a person’s sudden collapse.

“The response was really quick. I was out there like a flash,” Munby said, adding that there happened to be a medical doctor on scene when the incident occurred.

The doctor performed chest compressions until paramedics arrived along with Kingston Police and campus security.

Upon arrival, paramedics used an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) to shock the professor’s heart. He responded to the first shock.

In cases of ventricular fibrillation, AEDs are life-saving machines which are able to deliver an electric shock to the heart if it is no longer beating effectively.

“The medical statistics are that if the heart goes into fibrillation then the chances of survival with defibrillation are 80 per cent in the first minute and those chances decrease by 10 per cent per minute,” Munby said.

“So if defibrillation doesn’t occur for eight minutes, if you do the math, the chances of survival are close to zero. We were very lucky the compressions were very forceful. Defibrillation for him happened after about eight minutes. Had we had a defibrillator we could have done it in the first minute.”

While there are five AEDs located in the ARC, currently there are none in Duncan McArthur Hall on West Campus.

“About a year and a half ago I asked for one. I honestly don’t know what happened with the response,” Munby said, adding that he had contacted Environmental Health and Safety as well as Athletics and Recreation about having a defibrillator installed.

“About [one week] before the incident here, I asked again, can we have one,” he said.

“At a point where I ask twice for a [defibrillator] and nothing happens … when no one responds by saying ‘right, let’s get it in there right away and we’ll worry about the money later’—that to me seems inappropriate.”

Duncan McArthur Hall is owned and operated by the Faculty of Education but Athletics and Recreation rents out the space to various clubs.

Fencing assistant coach Rodney Carter, ArtSci ’02, said because of the number of people using the gymnasium, a defibrillator needs to be installed in Duncan McArthur Hall.

“This is something that is recognized by public schools, Goodlife Fitness … because it’s not just overweight people or higher risk groups … there’s a possibility for young athletic, predominantly males, to go into this cardiac arrest,” he said, adding that as well as the fencing club, community groups and students in the Faculty of Education use the facility.

“As the technology improves, they’re becoming more available and people are recognizing that these are easy-to-operate machines,” he said.

According to the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, only people who are trained and authorized to use an AED can do so. Training is usually administered in conjunction with a CPR course and is relatively brief.

Dan Langham, director of Queen’s Environmental Health and Safety, said that prior to the Jan. 27 incident, there were plans to install a defibrillator in the Duncan McArthur gymnasium.

“The process of ... putting [in] an [AED] was actually initiated about a week before the incident occurred. The Faculty [of Education] had contacted Environmental Health and Safety to find out the process to get one installed,” he said. “The Faculty itself takes on the installation and having a program in place to do the maintenance checks and the inspection processes.”

Langham said the AED should be installed within the next two months. AEDs come in a small kit, placed in a wall mount, so that the device can be brought to the individual who has suffered cardiac arrest.

“I don’t have a specific date at this point in time … we’re just continuing to work through the process to get one put in,” he said. “Environmental Health and Safety only became aware of the request to have a AED put in at that location three weeks ago. As soon as we found out the request, we started the process.”

According to Langham, AEDs cost between $2,000 and $3,000.

“Putting AEDs in higher risk environments like athletics centres … is becoming best practice, somewhat of a standard,” he said, adding that he is unaware of any legal requirement to place a defibrillator in an athletic facility.

Langham said campus security has one AED kept in a vehicle and located at the office which is ready to be deployed in case of emergency. “Queen’s First Aid also carries a unit that’s deployed to all the incidents they go to,” he said.

Herbert Steacy, Athletics and Recreation’s associate director for facilities and business development, said installing defibrillators is an option left up to the management of an athletic facility.

“Defibrillators are the responsibility of people that manage and oversee a facility,” he said. “We use McArthur quite a bit as we use other facilities around Kingston … it’s not our facility to manage. Certainly Athletics and Recreation is prepared to support it both in principle and we’re prepared to put some funding in towards it to help the school purchase one.”

Steacy said the management of a facility has to be responsible for defibrillator installation because of long-term care.

“There’s some maintenance issues that need to be assumed by facility [operators],” he said, adding that batteries need to be checked and the gel coating used to administer the shock needs to be replaced regularly.

“That really boils down to why the individual facility needs to take ownership,” he said.

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