See that yellow box? It could save your life.

The Automated External Defibrillator (AED) located on the corner of Dubuque Street and Jefferson Street, in Feb. 23, 2022, in Iowa City, Iowa. AEDs have been installed all across Johnson County to help reduce fatalities and long-term health effects of out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrests. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

Most people are familiar with some of the signs of heart disease — chest pains, dizziness, shortness of breath — but sudden cardiac arrests can occur without any warning signs, and a person’s chances of survival decreases 7 to 10 percent with every minute that passes before they get help.

To help reduce fatalities and long-term health effects, the Rotary Kerber HeartSafe Community Campaign and Johnson County Ambulance Service (JCAS) are installing Automated External Defibrillators (AED) throughout the county. Five have already been installed in Iowa City and three in Coralville, said JCAS Director Fiona Johnson.

“This is a super cool opportunity for the county and will literally save lives, or help citizens save lives, I should say,” she said.

The AED program has been almost two years in the making and was finally implemented on Valentine’s Day, Johnson said. Two AEDs will be installed in North Liberty, and more will come to Solon, Oxford, Hills and Tiffin in the future. Johnson plans to meet with Lone Tree and Swisher as well.

Heart attacks are circulation problems, caused by blocked arteries that prevent oxygenated blood from reaching the heart. Cardiac arrests, however, are electrical problems. They are caused by an electrical dysfunction that results in an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia. A heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest, though not always.

A person suffering from cardiac arrest will be unresponsive and unconscious, no pulse, no breathing. More than 356,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur annually in the country and nearly 90 percent of them are fatal, the American Heart Association said. That’s close to 1,000 people every day.

“An AED is very easy to use and will walk you through the whole process. People are often concerned that they will accidentally shock someone that doesn’t need a shock,” Johnson said. “That is not possible. AEDs will only deliver a shock to someone that needs it.”

AEDs analyze a person’s irregular heartbeat and send an electric shock to restore the heart’s normal rhythm. It turns on automatically when someone opens the lid. Then, a person will attach two sticky pads onto the chest of the person suffering cardiac arrest. The pads send information to the AED, which determines if an electric shock is necessary. Some AEDs tell users when to press the button that delivers the shock, while others deliver the shock automatically.

The Automated External Defibrillator (AED) located on the corner of Dubuque Street and Jefferson Street, in Feb. 23, 2022, in Iowa City, Iowa. To open the AED box, you need an access code provided by 911. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

The Rotary Kerber HeartSafe Community Campaign, a project of the Iowa City Noon Rotary Club aimed at making AEDs more available and facilitating immediate bystander CPR, contributed $10,000 towards the implementation of the program, and Johnson County pays a $10,500 subscription fee, Johnson said.

The AED program works in conjunction with the PulsePoint Respond and PulsePoint AED apps. The PulsePoint Respond app is connected to the county’s 911 system. When someone calls 911 to report a heart attack, the app notifies CPR-trained medical professionals and citizen responders who are within a quarter-mile radius of the stricken individual. The PulsePoint AED app is a database of public AEDs, and users can add AED locations to the database. The apps are currently active in 4,234 communities nationwide.

PulsePoint-notified responders arrived one minute and 55 seconds before Fire/EMS responders, according to their 30-day average.

Public AED programs increase survival rates between 50 and 70 percent, as opposed to the 10 percent national rate, according to a study in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation. AED intervention by laypersons resulted in a 53 percent median survival rate.

“If someone is in cardiac arrest, it is imperative that a bystander/citizen activate the 911 system, start CPR, request someone grab the closest AED and keep providing this life-saving skill until first responders arrive,” Johnson said.

It is better to perform CPR on-site and wait for the ambulance, rather than driving someone to the hospital, she explained. People performing CPR should also swap out every two minutes to ensure effective compressions.

The public AED locations in Iowa City are:

  • Highway 1 West and Miller Avenue
  • Mormon Trek Boulevard and Cameron Way
  • Dubuque Street and Jefferson Street
  • Court Street and First Avenue
  • Highway 6 East and Broadway Street

In Coralville, the AED locations are:

  • 1st Avenue and Highway 6
  • 1st Avenue and 9th Street
  • Highway 965 and Commerce Drive

The installation process is still underway in North Liberty, but the locations will be:

  • The northwest corner of Centennial Park
  • Highway 965 and Fairview Lane
Cardiac arrests in Johnson County from January 2019 to July 2021. Courtesy of JCAS.

To choose the AED locations, JCAS plotted out all cardiac arrest events that occurred in the county from January 2019 to July 2021.

“[We] looked to see where we had an increase in cardiac arrest occurrences so we could put an AED in that public setting,” Johnson said.

The Rotary Kerber HeartSafe Community Campaign is named in honor of the late Dr. Richard E. Kerber, a professor of cardiology at the University of Iowa for over four decades and one of the creators of the American Heart Association’s guidelines for CPR.

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