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Portable Device Restarts Heart

A 62-year-old man from New Hampshire was aboard an American Airlines flight on Nov. 22 when he went into cardiac arrest. An automated external defibrillator, brought on board only days before, saved Michael Tighe's life, reports CBS This Morning Co-Anchor Russ Mitchell.

American Airlines is the first carrier to begin installing the portable defibrillators on board domestic flights.

Dolores Tighe was with her husband on the plane when she found she could not wake him up. Alarmed that he was not responding, she called the head flight attendant. Both the attendant and other passengers helped lay Michael on the floor.

His pulse was weak and it was clear that he was having difficulty breathing. Dolores and the flight attendant began performing CPR on Michael. When he didn't respond, the attendant called for the defibrillator.

After placing pads on his chest that attached to the device, the attendant was able to monitor Michael's heart rate. The machine's reading suggested that they defibrillate Michael, using an electric shock to activate his heart.

After five attempts, Michael revived. The plane, bound from Boston to Los Angeles, made an emergency landing in Denver, where Tighe was taken to a nearby hospital for cardiac care.

Ironically, Michael works for the Boston Public Health Commission, which has been pushing the city to install automatic portable defibrillators in office buildings, hotels, and on fire engines.

"I certainly not only agreed that the defibrillators are important -- I not only know that they've saved lives, but it has saved my life and I suppose I'll become a missionary," Michael told CBS This Morning.

Now, Michael says, his prognosis is "excellent." Although he will probably have a defibrillator put into his chest, he should be able to resume the sporting activities he has enjoyed such as running and cross-country skiing.

Doctors say the portable device used to save Michael's life is one of the biggest medical advances in recent years.

Dr. John Brennan demonstrates the defibrillator using a medical dummy.(CBS)

"This device will take an electrical current and put it through the patient whose heart has stopped and has become erratically beating and help set it so it goes back to its normal rhythm,"
explains Dr. John Brennan, chairman of the Committee for Emergency Services of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Dr. Brennan explains how the device is operated:

  • Two pads are placed on the patient, one on te heart and the other over the right side of the person's chest. If the pads are put in the wrong place, the machine will not administer a shock.
  • The machine is turned on, and the Analyze button is pushed. A computer chip inside will analyze the patient's heart rate.
  • If the machine indicates the heart is in "V-Fib," meaning the heart has a lethal rhythm, then the patient needs to be shocked.
  • The machine has a computerized voice which will ask the operator to "stand clear" if it is preparing to generate electricity to shock the patient. The person administering the aid then pushes the Shock button. [As a safeguard, the machine has an automatic control so that the Shock button will not operate if the machine does not find a lethal rhythm.]
  • After shocking the patient, the defibrillator will re-analyze the person's heart rate, then advise administering either another shock or CPR, as necessary.

Dr. Brennan says the defibrillators cost between $3,000 to $5,000, and weigh about 6 1/2 pounds.

The Federal Aviation Administration is considering whether to recommend that all airlines put the devices on their planes.

Dr. Brennan says that it is very likely that the FAA will pass legislation in the future that requires the defibrillators to be installed on commercial planes. In the meantime, other public institutions have begun to use the machines.

"This has been shown to work in stadiums, this works in community homes for retired people, and this has worked in airlines," Dr. Brennan says.

A person must go through four hours of training to operate the defibrillator. After that, the person operating the machine must file regular reports with a doctor to confirm that it's being used correctly.

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