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CBS4 finds life-saving devices missing, misleading in some public places

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A CBS4 Problem Solvers investigation found a number of life-saving devices either missing or misleading in very public areas.

Automated External Defibrillators, or AEDs, are popping up more and more across central Indiana. Research has shown the devices can save someone who is in cardiac arrest, which kills more than 300,000 people every year.

The condition should have killed both Bruce Richardson and Justin Siller.

"There was no way to tell this was going to happen," Richardson said.

"It's hard to process, really, all of it sometimes," Siller said.

Siller was at school, jogging, when it happened. Richardson was at church, praying with his weekly men's group.

"I had no symptoms there was any issue," Richardson said.

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart's electrical system malfunctions, causing it to stop. It's different than a heart attack, though a heart attack can bring it on, according to the American Heart Association.

Both Richardson and Siller knew they had heart conditions, but did not have any symptoms before their cardiac arrest began. In other cases, victims have had no idea there was any issue before a cardiac arrest.

"The only way I know what happened is because of what people have told me," Siller said.

That day in September 2014 may be lost for Siller, but for Kim Romanetz and Maggie Rockwell, it's vivid -- etched in their memories.

"It definitely has changed my life," Romanetz said.

The pair worked at Danville Community High School and rushed in to help after Siller collapsed.

"A student poked their head (into my office) and said, 'Mrs. Rockwell, he's turning blue,'" Rockwell said. "I yelled to (Romanetz), 'Do we need the AED?' And she said yes."

They got the device hooked up, followed its instructions, and then came the moment it told them to push the button and deliver a shock.

"I remember looking at her and we kind of locked eyes and she’s like, 'Push it,'" Rockwell said.

The shock brought Siller's heartbeat back. He spent a week in a coma, but he survived and he's now back at school, living a more-or-less normal teenage life.

Romanetz and Rockwell said, emphatically, that they believe having an AED there that day saved Siller's life.

AED devices are not standard across our community

A CBS4 investigation found areas in Indianapolis where the devices are missing or misleading.

At the Indianapolis City-County building, we found one AED missing from its box. Others were in boxes with the label "Trained Responders Only" on them.

The Indianapolis Public Library system had no AEDs at all, despite having 24 locations, many of which are heavily trafficked.

We took those findings to Troy Pflugner, with Cardiac Science. Pflugner sells AED's and has organized hundreds of giveaways to local groups and charities.

"I’ve had, in 10 years, more than 100 different cases where someone is alive because there was access to an AED," Pflugner said.

Pflugner said labels that say "Trained Responders Only," which CBS4 Problem Solvers found in other areas, too, are outdated. Around 10 years ago, Indiana legislators rewrote state law to allow anyone to use an AED without liability. The devices have become so technologically advanced that you don't need to be a doctor to use one.

"You should not have a hesitation going to a cabinet and seeing a sticker that says trained responder only," Pflugner said.

When it comes to the library, Pflugner, and others, expressed even more concern.

Initially, a library spokesperson told CBS4 that concerns over liability had prompted administrators to decide not to obtain the devices.

"Liability should not be the concern of having an AED," Pflugner said. "I've placed AED's in libraries all over the state, they should absolutely have one. ... There are libraries in Hamilton County, in Hendricks County, Boone County, Henry County, that have AEDs."

In fact, there are thousands of AEDs across central Indiana, and they're easier to use than you might think.

The devices talk you through what to do with voiced instructions. They detect a heartbeat, and they will not shock someone unless no heartbeat is detected.

Many CPR trainings, including at the American Red Cross, now comes standard with AEDs as part of the curriculum.

Red Cross instructor Clay Bryant said that the greatest barrier to using an AED is fear.

"People just need to become more comfortable with (them)," Bryant said.

Dr. Gopi Dandamudi, a cardiac electrophysiologist with IU Health, took it one step further.

"When somebody has cardiac arrest, time is of the essence," Dandamudi said. "The best chance of survival usually is within the first three minutes."

That's if you can get to a device, though.

Richardson was lucky: his church, Grace Assembly of God, did not have a device, but paramedics arrived in time to shock him, and save his life.

"Combined, they all worked on me for about 37 minutes," Richardson said.

Afterwards, the church decided to invest in two of the devices, which now sit in its busy areas, including outside the sanctuary.

"There’s an added sense of urgency for the need, especially with a group of people this large that go here," Richardson said.

Indiana law does not say public places have to have AEDs. It only mandates them in health clubs, so your gym should have them. However, everyone CBS4 Problem Solvers talked to, including firefighters and EMTs, said the devices should be in as many places as possible, especially where large groups of people gather.

Since our investigation began, action has already been taken. Representatives at the city-county building are looking into the missing device and potentially taking out the "Trained Responders Only" labels.

At the Indianapolis Public Library, CEO Jackie Nytes said she had decided not to invest in the devices as recently as two years ago.

"There was a lot of concern expressed by our insurance company and by our attorneys," Nytes said.

After CBS4 Problem Solvers presented our findings, Nytes said she looked again and found things had changed.

"They are more willing to entertain us moving in this direction," Nytes said.

The devices cost between $1,200 and $1,500 each. If you obtain one, you are required by law to notify your local ambulance service.

The devices also have to be maintained and checked periodically, and in many instances training of staff is recommended. Nytes said in the past, the library found that burden too high.

However, the library is now formulating a plan to pay for the devices and phase them in at all of its locations.

"If there was an incident and we didn’t have these, I’d be kicking myself all the way out the door," Nytes said.

Richardson and Siller both know this issue all too well, and have become advocates for increased access to AEDs. They each believe an AED saved their life, and it could mean the difference between someone you know dying, or moving forward, to do what they love.

"It’s nothing short of a miracle that we’re here, able to share the story," Richardson said.

"You can save somebody’s life with these and life is a really precious thing," Siller said.

The American Red Cross has specialists that can help organizations obtain AEDs. You can find more information here.

What about if a sudden cardiac arrest doesn't happen in public?

Dr. Dandamudi pointed out that 70% of cardiac arrest happens at home, and that's an issue the community has yet to conquer.

Siller and his father, who had the same heart condition, both received implanted defibrillators after Siller's near death. The devices can detect a problem and shock from the inside.

Dandamudi noted research going on in Europe which would turn a drone into an AED. The device could then be flown to a home, by a 911 dispatcher, and used by a neighbor to administer a shock.

While the research is certainly experimental, Dandamudi said that with smart watches and wearable devices becoming more popular, the technology could exist to alert 911 if your heart stopped in the future.

"In the next five to 10 years, it’s quite possible that we may get to that point," Dandamudi said.

In the meantime, you can sign up for a Red Cross training at this link, or find more information about AEDs and familiarize yourself with their use at the link here.

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