Study to determine if defibrillators can save heart attack victims at home

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - Defibrillators that can restart a stopped heart are found in ambulances, police cars and even shopping malls.
Now, a nationwide trial sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute will try to determine whether having the machines at home will improve a heart attack victim's chance of survival.
"We know the earlier a patient is shocked, the greater the chance of recovery," said registered nurse Debra Hudock, director of clinical research for Akron General Medical Center's heart center.
Between 40 and 60 patients at the hospital will be among 7,000 patients at 140 hospitals nationwide to take part in the study.
Defibrillators are designed to be simple to use. Electrodes are stuck to a victim's chest and the device advises whether a shock is needed.
Half of the volunteers will be given defibrillators. After four years, the trial will see whether those with defibrillators were more likely to survive sudden cardiac arrest than those who were not.
The men and women involved in the study have had heart attacks affecting the front portion of the heart, the body's main pumping chambers.
Heart attacks -- caused by clogged blood vessels -- are often survivable without defibrillators, if victims recognize their symptoms and seek prompt medical attention.
But 95 percent of those who suffer sudden cardiac arrest -- where the heart stops beating without warning -- die before reaching the hospital.
It is in those cases where the effectiveness of defibrillators is a question, said Dr. George Litman, Akron General's chief of cardiology.
Litman suspects that having the machines in the house could prove effective, as 70 percent of sudden cardiac arrests occur at home.
However, the question arises as to whether having a device, called automated external defibrillators, in the home will create a false sense of security.
"Will some people think, 'I can smoke and eat and drink all I want because I have an AED to save me?'" said Tagni Osentowski, an American Heart Association spokeswoman.
Also in question is the price of the machines, which can run between $2,000 and $3,000, and who should qualify for one at home since it's difficult to predict who will need one.
Carle Wyler, 70, of Tallmadge, has never smoked, doesn't drink, eats properly, exercises and has normal cholesterol levels. But last September, Wyler had had a heart attack while shingling a roof at his family farm in Coshocton and have to had a triple bypass operation.
When Akron General asked Carle Wyler to be part of the trial, he and his wife, JoAnn, jumped at the chance.
"We're at the point where we want to reach out," she said. "If they can learn something from it, then that's a way we can give back."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)