Bluffton Police officer Akil Brown displays the AED unit that stays in his police department vehicle. Bluffton Police officer Akil Brown displays the AED unit that stays in his police department vehicle. PHOTO COURTESY BLUFFTON POLICE DEPARTMENT

Bluffton Police Department officers saved two lives in the past two months because they had the equipment necessary to revive individuals who experienced sudden cardiac arrest.

Had they not had an automated external defibrillator (AED) on board their police cruisers, the victims might have died.

Officers Jim Mendicino and Jason Rodriguez responded to an emergency at the end of October. A man had collapsed and the officers found no pulse nor was the victim breathing.

Mendicino hooked the man up to the HeartSine Samaritan Pad AED and shocked him, restarting his heart.

“The man is still recovering but is alive and very thankful to be alive,” said Bluffton Police Chief Joey Reynolds.

Sudden cardiac arrest is not the same thing as a heart attack and can affect anyone at any age. A change in the electricity of the heart produces an irregular, erratic arrhythmia, or heart rhythm, and can cause the heart to stop beating.

When the heart stops pumping blood, which carries oxygen to the brain, irreparable damage and death will follow quickly.

In the second incident, Mendicino was driving when he saw the driver of a vehicle behind him trying to get his attention with bright lights. He stopped, got out and ran back to the other vehicle to find a woman whose husband had no pulse. The officer returned to his car, pulled out the AED and applied the pads to the man’s body, bringing his pulse back.

In both cases, the Bluffton Township Fire Department emergency medical service teams took the patients to hospitals where they were treated.

All 31 Bluffton patrol cars have an AED on board, the result of the Arrhythmia-Alliance-Gavin Quance Defibs Save Lives campaign.

In 2014, 8-year-old Gavin Quance was pulled – unresponsive – out of a Bluffton pool. Police officers arrived five minutes before paramedics and began to administer CPR.

Sadly, the boy did not survive. The availability of an AED could have had the potential to bring him back to life.

The Hilton Head non-profit organization Arrhythmia-Alliance learned of the tragedy and invited Gavin’s family to join forces to equip all Bluffton Police cars with AEDs to prevent others going through the tragedy that the Quance family have experienced.

Julie Kizer, the Bluffton Township Fire Department’s CPR instructor and wellness coordinator, conducted the training last year for the police department and this year has trained an additional 1,300 individuals in both cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and use of the AED. She said CPR was integral in saving lives.

“The key is it takes us four to six minutes to get there and in those four to six minutes your brain needs oxygen and so you are keeping people alive until fire or EMS arrive with the AED,” said Kizer. “The Bluffton fire department has a goal of becoming a HEARTSafe community and as a result of that we desire to educate as many people as possible with CPR and AED.”

HEARTSafe is a trademarked program that designates various locations as “being able to support the chain of survival, such as widespread CPR instruction, public access defibrillators and aggressive resuscitation protocols for first responders and area hospitals,” according to the HEARTSafe web site.

At a cost of $1,595 per unit, the HeartSine AED is a bit pricey for some agencies, but it can be purchased through a variety of methods, including fundraisers, donations and purchases by individuals and businesses.

“We launched the campaign during National Night Out in August 2015 and all of the Bluffton police vehicles were equipped by December,” said Samantha Horstman, Arrhythmia-Alliance program coordinator. “We are constantly reaching out to local organizations, clubs, businesses and individuals to create a HEART-Safe Community by public access to AEDs.” Horstman said A-A recently placed its 3,000th AED.

While police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel are trained in life-saving skills, including the AED, training on the HeartSine equipment is not required for users.

“With the way AEDs are used these days, it is very simple,” Horstman said. “The AED will tell the user that no shock is needed or to stand back and administer shock. Just press the ‘on’ button.”

The Arrhythmia-Alliance began in the United Kingdom 23 years ago and branches have spread to 40 countries. Physical locations are only in London and Hilton Head.

For those concerned about helping others, use of the AED falls under the Good Samaritan law, giving legal protection to people who provide reasonable assistance in an emergency.

For more information on the Arrhythmia Alliance of Hilton Head, visit www.heartrhythmalliance.org

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.