REGINA – Rev. Laura Sundberg of St. James United Church remembers Dec. 23 like it was yesterday.
“Diane, my coworker, had been setting up the sanctuary with a member of the congregation to get ready for the Christmas Eve service,” Sundberg recalls.
“I don’t have any memory of any of it,” Diane Robinson, a minister on staff at St. James United Church said.
“She said I kept saying I was dizzy. Dizzy, dizzy, dizzy. She suggested that we go into my office and just kind of sit and centre ourselves and relax.”
After a few moments, Robinson put her head down on her desk and passed out. Sundberg quickly sprung into action.
“I felt her chest beating really, really fast,” she said.
“Her lips were blue. Her eyes were dazed. I thought, ‘I better call 911 right away.'”
Sundberg said the 911 first asked what happened.
“Then he said, ‘do you have an AED on site?’ and I said, ‘yes!'”
With the help of the operator, Sundberg was able to give Robinson a shock, and perform CPR that ultimately saved her life. Eight minutes and 23 seconds later, Robinson was in the care of paramedics.
But, Robinson and Sundberg said their story gets even more dramatic. A few weeks before the incident, Robinson was out for lunch with a friend after church.
“Over the course of the time together, we got to talking about AEDs,” Robinson said.
“In the truest sense, a sanctuary is a place of safety. That’s my theological underpinning for this is that the church needs to be a safe place, and the AED can help it be a safe place.”
She decided to take an installation proposal to the church council.
“The AED was installed October 22nd. December 23rd I had my heart attack here, and I was the first that it was used on.”
The Regina Qu’appelle Health Region (RQHR) launched its Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) program in 2002. Since then, about 800 AEDs have been installed just in the Regina region.
“If you went unconscious and stopped breathing in the city, the chance of survival was less than five percent. We’re over 50 per cent now, and it’s because of the community,” Janell Senft, RQHR Public Access Defibrillation Coordinator, said.
When somebody goes unconscious, about 80 per cent of the time it’s because the electrical activity of the heart has malfunctioned. As a result, the heart quivers and shakes about 250-300 times per minute. An AED can stop that fast motion with an electric shock, and hopefully the heart can pick up beating.
“When our heart malfunctions like that and it’s misfiring, the longest it’s going to misfire is 10 minutes even with good chest compression,” Senft said.
The average ambulance response time in Saskatchewan cities is about seven minutes, so a defibrillator can buy a patient time during critical moments.
But they can be intimidating machines.
“He installed this in the hall in this cabinet, and every time I would go by I would think, ‘oh my gosh. What would happen if I actually had to use it?’ Right? This is my worst nightmare,” Sundberg said.
Senft advised that you have to trust the machine knows what it’s doing.
“The pads go on the chest, and they read to see if you’re having those fast rhythms. That’s the only time this button is going to become active, and let you hit the button to deliver a shock to somebody. You cannot harm anybody by putting an AED on,” said Senft.
The added security comes at a cost. An AED unit runs anywhere from $1600-$2300.
“You can’t put a price on a person’s life,” Robinson said.
Today, she has a pacemaker, a device that acts as a sort of internal AED. It’s fitting, since she’s become an advocate for getting them into public spaces.
“Do it,” she said.
“Get them into your buildings. Get them into your office’s. Get them into your malls. Get them into your schools. And, from my perspective, get them into your synagogues, your temple’s, your churches, your parishes. You won’t be sorry you did.”