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AEDs Save Lives in High-Rises

There are a lot of perks to living in a downtown high-rise. Shared amenities, access to nearby shopping and restaurants, and the ability to walk to work are just a few of the reasons why some people might choose to live in an urban dwelling. But what if you knew that the home in the sky that you love could restrict your access to life-saving medical attention in an emergency? Would you still choose to live there? For one Vancouverite, this predicament was all too real when he had a heart attack in his apartment on the 23rd floor.

The Vancouver Sun recently posted a story about local downtown resident, Tony Flagan, who was considered medically dead after his heart stopped beating for three minutes. Flagan had been swimming laps in his building’s pool when he returned to his unit and began to experience symptoms of a heart attack –  the same way his mother had passed away in her own high-rise apartment more than 30 years earlier. Because of the way in which his mother passed, Flagan knew that he needed to get out of his unit and down to the lobby to increase his chances of survival. He called 911 and made his way to the building’s entrance where paramedics found him non-responsive. The emergency responders were able to resuscitate Flagan and rushed him to St. Paul’s Hospital for emergency surgery.

Now, Flagan has convinced his strata to invest in some automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in the building so that there is close-by access in the case of an emergency. He, along with St. John Ambulance, are encouraging other high-rise strata and condo corporations to do the same. With cardiac arrest, brain damage can occur within three to five minutes of the heart stopping, and chances of surviving decrease by 10% after every minute that passes. BC Emergency Health Services claimed that on average last year, it would take approximately nine minutes for ambulances to respond to an emergency.

Chances of survival after cardiac arrest in a high-rise. Infographic by National Post.What’s worse for residents of high rise buildings is that if you live on the 25th floor or higher, the chances of surviving a heart attack are zero (see infographic). The extra time that it takes emergency responders to reach residents that far up increases due to limited access to buildings and slowdowns from elevators. With access to AEDs, family members, friends, or neighbours might be able to help more quickly than a first responder. The devices are extremely easy to use and provide audio instructions to ensure successful operation of the equipment.

Vancouver is Canada’s densest city, followed by Montreal, Toronto, Mississauga and Calgary. With nearly 200,000 people living in condominium units five storeys or higher in Vancouver alone, the benefits of access to and awareness of automated external defibrillators are critical. The cost is between $1,000 and $3,000 per unit and experts recommend that they be as accessible as fire extinguishers. St. John Ambulance provides AEDs training and is currently working on a campaign to get the medical instruments into more high-rise buildings.

It would be prudent for strata and condo corporations to consider the investment for their high-rise buildings and provide access to information regarding how to use them, where to find them, or what to do in the case of an emergency. To further cultivate a sense of community within the strata or condo, it’s important for neighbours to have each other as emergency contacts. If it takes more than 9 minutes for an emergency responder to arrive on the scene after calling 911, think of how much your neighbor or spouse can accomplish in that same time with the proper medical equipment. They could save a life.

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