Automated chest compressions saving lives in ambulances

By Joe Beck

Ambulances dispatched from the Toms Brook fire station lately have been carrying a mechanical device that functions like a highly efficient additional crewmember assigned to save the lives of heart patients.

EMS crewmembers say the device, dubbed the Lucas II Chest Compression Systems, has been proving its worth in the year since it began accompanying them on ambulance runs through northern Shenandoah County.

Crewmembers praise the device’s ability to sustain consistent, high quality chest compressions long after most human rescuers begin succumbing to fatigue and distractions in stressful situations.

Longer, stronger chest compression mean more blood flow to the heart and brain and a better chance that heart attack patients will survive the trip to the hospital emergency room.

“That thing is nice to have,” said Lt. Nathan Helsley of the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue. “I don’t have to sweat as much with it.

The device has recorded a success rate of 22 percent in the nine times it has been used since it went into service in July 2012. A 22 percent success rate may not sound impressive, but the arithmetic translates into two patients out of nine who were revived by the chest compression system after they had lost consciousness while being transported to the hospital.

The portable, battery-powered device works by strapping a patient onto a horizontal back plate with support legs on both sides. A suction cup attached to a bellows presses down from above and applies pressure to the chest in intervals of less than 20 seconds.

“It performs a very aggressive compression,” Helsley said.

The device’s advantages include lightweight simplicity and ease of operation. The training video is about a half hour long.

“It wasn’t a whole lot of training,” Helsley said. “In 30 seconds, you can set it up.”

The manufacturer’s website touts studies in animals and humans that show automated chest compressions from the Lucas II device increase blood flow to the brain in emergency situations by as much as 60 percent, enough to awaken CPR patients who have lost consciousness.

The fire and rescue department purchased the $15,390 device through a grant from the Virginia Office of Emergency Services. Tim Williams, operations chief for the fire and rescue department, said at least one more chest compression device may be on the way soon.

“Our intention is to purchase one in the fall to dispatch to the southern end of the county,” Williams said.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com