September 25, 2002 11:00 pm
LIFE SAVER: Sgt. John Campbell simulating the use a fully automatic external defibrillator on EMS director Bruce Womack. (The Observer/GARY FLETCHER).
LIFE SAVER: Sgt. John Campbell simulating the use a fully automatic external defibrillator on EMS director Bruce Womack. (The Observer/GARY FLETCHER).

By Gary Fletcher

Observer Staff Writer

ENTERPRISE — Everything worked just right for a Baker City woman's life to be saved Saturday night at Wallowa Lake.

It was the first time a sheriff's deputy used one of Wallowa County's new fully automatic heart defibrillators.

Jean Bennett, a healthy and active 80-year-old, was dancing Saturday night at the Alpenfest celebration to the Glenn Miller classic, "In the Mood."

Bennett, who had a triple heart bypass six years ago, felt faint and then collapsed, suffering cardiac arrest.

A bystander called 911. A physician and a nurse happened to be on hand to begin CPR immediately. An appropriate electrical shock was required. There is typically a 10-minute window of time in which to do so. With each passing minute, the chances of survival decline, Wallowa County Health Care District Emergency Services director Bruce Womack said.

Along with the Enterprise ambulance, Oregon State Police trooper Greg Retherford, a certified first responder, was dispatched from Joseph. Wallowa County Sheriff Sgt. John Campbell responded from Enterprise with the AED defibrillator in his patrol car.

When Retherford arrived at 11:03 p.m., Bennett's pulse was too faint to be detected.

Campbell arrived two minutes later and administered a shock with the AED. Bennett still had no palpable pulse. The AED's computer analyzes heart rhythm before and after each shock. The defibrillator determined that Bennett was not ready to be shocked again, so CPR was continued another four minutes.

Then the AED processor detected a heart rhythm that could be shocked. It instructed Campbell to push the button for another shock. After the second shock, a pulse was detected, and Bennett was revived.

When Campbell went outside to radio that updated condition to the approaching ambulance, he was greeted by cheers and applause. "We're not out of the woods yet," he thought.

The ambulance transported Bennett to Wallowa Memorial Hospital. She was then flown to Portland's Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital. She was released Monday morning in good condition.

This was the first AED used since the Wallowa County Health Care Foundation purchased 10 of the devices about two years ago, with the help of grants from the Oregon Community and Ford Family foundations.

The original idea was to have AEDs available in strategic public places like Safeway and post offices. That plan has not yet materialized, but three of the AEDs were placed in Wallowa County sheriff cars. Others were placed with EMT first responders at Flora, Troy, Eden Bench, Bartlett Bench, the Imnaha Store & Tavern, and one at Wallowa Lake State Park. The Fergison Ridge Ski Patrol uses the latter one during the winter.

In addition, Community Bank donated three semi-automatic defibrillator that are with EMTs such as Kevin Warnock in Joseph and John Walthers at Wallowa Lake. Walthers originally pursued grants for the AEDs. Now Womack is in charge of the program.

Womack is pursuing federal funding for more of the fully automatic defibrillators. Saving this one life has justified the entire program, he said.

"She would not have had a prayer without it," Womack said. "You can't have too many (AEDs)." With enough of the $3,500 units, the cardiac arrest death rate could be cut in half, he said.

Womack would like to see one in each patrol car in the county, and he also wants to revive the drive to install some in strategic public places.

There is no liability for trying to help cardiac arrest victims. The federal Good Samaritan act makes them exempt, Womack said.

The compact, fully automatic defibrillators are virtually foolproof, said Womack and Campbell. On the AED are drawings showing where to place the two electrical pads on the chest. The heart rhythm is analyzed, and a voice prompt and instructions on the screen tell the operator what to do. The internal computer will not allow a shock to be sent unless there is an appropriate heart rhythm.

The small hi-tech system is so simple that a very young child could operate it, Womack said.

This was the first time Campbell had used one since his last CPR class nearly two years ago. Campbell's response to those calling him a hero is, "I'm no hero. I was just doing my job."

Use of the AED is taught as part of the basic four-hour CPR class at the Enterprise hospital. For class availability, call 541-426-3111.