The time between suffering sudden cardiac arrest and an EMS crew's arrival can be frightening, dangerous, and sometimes, deadly. It's why the Howard County Department of Fire & Rescue Services is showing how the community can help beat the odds by using the PulsePoint smartphone app, which alerts CPR-certified users of cardiac emergencies nearby.
Designed by the PulsePoint Foundation, a nonprofit organization, the free app sends notifications to users, informing them of a cardiac emergency in a public place within a quarter mile of their location. Howard's fire and rescue department is the first in Maryland to use the app.
With over 1,000 people every day suffering sudden cardiac arrest across the country, county fire department Medical Director Dr. Matthew Levy said that's roughly 300 people a year in Howard County.
"Despite our comprehensive efforts to train bystanders, which we do free of charge, we still have a problem," Levy said. "Fifty percent of cardiac arrests in Howard County do not receive bystander care. PulsePoint is a tool to help turn our citizens into immediate responders."
The app also shows the location of the nearest defibrillator, Levy added, providing coordinates as well as a picture of the device.
"The idea is simple: getting people to get involved to do bystander CPR as quickly as possible. That will save lives," Levy said.
In April 2012, county resident Mike Greenhill was playing soccer when he collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest. Since his health was good — including diet and exercise — Greenhill said the incident was a shock to everyone. A bystander's actions saved his life.
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"My incident underscores how important it is for many people to know CPR since you never know if you're going to witness an incident where someone needs your help," Greenhill said. "Because the bystander knew CPR, it changed everything for me and my family. Knowing CPR can change another person's life."
Another example was given by Marc Crumback, who was on his lunch break at the Lakefront in Columbia when he came across a woman lying face down in the grass.
"I don't know what to do, but instincts take over at that point," Crumback said. "I kneeled down and asked, 'Are you OK, ma'am?' No response. I can hear her gasping for breath, but still not responding. I ask her again, 'Ma'am, are you OK? Do you need me to call for help?' No response."
Although he said he remembered some CPR material from his elementary school and Boy Scout days, Crumback dialed 911 and spoke with an operator, who walked him through the process of hands-on CPR.
"Eventually, after what seemed like hours but probably just five minutes, the ambulance arrived and they began doing what they do," he said. "As it turns out, she did survive, and I was glad to be a part of that. I can't tell you what a great feeling it was."
As a future user of PulsePoint, Crumback said it's important for citizens to provide immediate assistance during cardiac arrest emergencies.
"For me, if I'm signed into the app, it's not going to be a matter of luck whether I'm just walking by a situation where someone's in distress and having a sudden cardiac arrest," Crumback said. "I'll be able to receive a message that says there's someone in need, and I can respond."