The lifesaving device at the heart of vital support for people on the road
For National Highways traffic officers, no two shifts are ever the same but nobody could have guessed the drama that would unfold on the A1M on 1 January.
Carl Ingham had begun the overnight shift and was patrolling motorways and major A roads in County Durham when he was alerted to an HGV on the hard shoulder. Seeing the truck’s hazard lights flashing in the night, Carl went to investigate.
The lorry driver had pulled over, feeling unwell. National Highways and emergency services had been called and Carl was the first official on the scene.
Upon opening the door to his cab, it was clear the driver needed help, fast. His colleague Mark Howell arrived soon afterwards and together they began to try and help the driver.
When the driver’s health took a sudden turn for the worse, the officers jumped into action. They began to carry out cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) before going back to their car and pulling out the machinery carried in all traffic officer vehicles – the defibrillator.
The defibrillator is a portable life-saving device that can give a heart an electric shock when it has stopped beating normally in a sudden cardiac arrest. While waiting for an ambulance to arrive, the equipment, alongside CPR, increases the chances of survival.
Once the defibrillator pads are placed on the chest, the machine checks the heartbeat. If the heart has stopped beating normally, the defibrillator shocks it to try and get it back into a normal rhythm.
Carl recalled: “It was quite an effort but we did it. The shock was quite violent but it worked. Eventually, we could see him breathing again. We monitored him as he started to come round. We left the machine running to monitor his heart rate and make sure he was going to be OK.”
At first glance, it may look like a complicated piece of kit but Carl said it told the two officers exactly what they needed to do.
“It showed you exactly where to place the pads. When you need to shock, you press the red button. It tells you what to press, it gives you the rhythm needed, it goes through everything.”
Carl believes the defibrillator saved the lorry driver’s life that night.
He and Mark are now sharing the message that anyone can use a defibrillator – and they should feel empowered to use it when it’s needed.
He said: “People shouldn’t be worried. When you find yourself in a situation where you need to use it, it is scary but people should feel confident to do it.”
Using the defibrillator, as well as CPR, is part of the first aid training all National Highways traffic officers receive.
Traffic officers face all kinds of situations while they are out on patrol. They have the challenging job of keeping people moving following an incident and they are often first on scene.
As well as clearing obstructions and spillages, they help to remove broken-down vehicles, and support the police and other emergency services by managing road closures when there’s a serious incident.
They are trained to handle all kinds of situations, including doing all they can for any casualties involved in incidents and support emergency services in helping them.
And it’s a sad fact of life that they do sometimes encounter people going into cardiac arrest.
As well as being carried by National Highways vehicles and emergency services, defibrillators can be found all over the country, in workplaces, public spaces like airports, shopping centres, community centres, and train stations as well as the wider community. The defibrillator or the case it sits in may say ‘AED’ or ‘defibrillator’.
In 999 calls, the emergency operator may be able to determine the location of the device too. According to the British Heart Foundation, by performing CPR and using a defibrillator, you’ll give someone the best possible chance of survival.
Anyone can use a defibrillator, and no special training is needed to use one.
Carl said: “I say to everyone who finds themselves in a situation where they need to help someone in need, don’t be afraid to use the defibrillator. Just go for it.
“In this situation, Mark and I worked well together. Luckily there was a good outcome. I’m glad we could do something for him.
“The decision to move away from chest compressions and start to use the defibrillator can be frightening.
“You might not know whether you are doing the right thing or using it the right way. Occasionally, unfortunately, you might not be able to save the person in the end, but you will know you did everything you could to help them.”
“Part of our pre-drive routine before we take the vehicles out on patrol is to check the defib unit.”
The defibrillator also records data such as the heart rhythm and information about cardiopulmonary resuscitation. This can help medical professionals to understand what has happened to the patient, carry out further diagnoses and support their treatment.
Carl said: “It really does make a difference. The important thing is having a go.”
Estelle Stephenson, Survival Programme Lead at the British Heart Foundation, said:
“A cardiac arrest is the ultimate medical emergency. As the incredible lifesaving actions of Carl and Mark show, immediate CPR and defibrillation gives someone the best chance of survival.
“There are over 30,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests every year in the UK, but fewer than one in ten people survive. Our free, first-of-its kind CPR training tool RevivR can give you the skills to save a life. It teaches the user the correct steps of CPR and defibrillator use in just 15 minutes – all you need is a phone and a cushion. Learn CPR with RevivR here: https://revivr.bhf.org.uk/.”
Advice on how and when to use a defibrillator
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) is full of advice on how to recognise and respond to a person who is in cardiac arrest.
If you see someone having a cardiac arrest, call 999, start CPR and get someone to find a defibrillator. The emergency operator can advise you if you can’t find one. Once you get the defibrillator, turn it on and continue CPR until the device tells you to stop.
More advice and information can be found on their website.
The British Heart Foundation says CPR and the defibrillator are both vital tools to keeping someone alive when they are in cardiac arrest.
The charity says: “A cardiac arrest is a serious emergency. It happens when there’s an electrical problem in the heart and it suddenly stops pumping blood around your body. When your heart stops pumping blood, your brain gets no oxygen. It causes the person to fall unconscious and stop breathing. Without CPR the person will die within minutes.”
CPR should only be done if someone is:
- unconscious and not breathing
- unconscious and not breathing properly.
If someone is unconscious but they’re breathing normally call 999 and put them in the recovery position.