When Grant Gichard collapsed on the pitcher’s mound two years ago, he was very lucky that his friends knew what to do.
“It was the first game of the season, first batter, first pitch,” said Gichard, who was playing for the Berry & Smith fast-pitch team. “I’m told I just collapsed after pitching the first pitch. I was lucky, it was fairly public. Another member of the team is a volunteer firefighter and I had another personal trainer who had just done CPR.”
Gichard, a physiotherapist and in good shape, had just had an SCA, a sudden cardiac attack, a condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating, unlike a heart attack, in which the blood flow to the heart is blocked.
The fire department arrived on scene some three minutes later, and the ambulance shortly after. Using the heart defibrillator equipment on the fire truck, Gichard received five shocks before his heart was restarted. From there it was off to Penticton Regional Hospital, where they used a new technique, cooling him down to minimize the damage, essentially putting him into a coma, before sending him off to the cardiac centre at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.
“A couple of days later I came to, and within seven days I received a defibrillator and it’s wired into my heart,” said Gichard.
While Gichard certainly owes his life to the people around him, and the quick response of emergency services, he also includes the automatic external defibrillator, or AED, on the fire truck.
“People whose heart stops outside the hospital, the likelihood that they will survive and have any decent quality of life, is less than five per cent. It’s almost nothing. If you have that happen and there is someone around that knows CPR and there is an AED nearby, your chances are five times that,” said Dr. David Kincade, Gichard’s cardiologist.
As recently as the late 1990s, when Kincade was training, an SCA was not survivable. “And now, not only do people survive, I have a collection of people like Grant, who have not only survived these events, they’re fine, they’re back to full life. Grant has two little kids, he works full time, he’s fine,” said Kincade. “I have lots of patients like that and those were kind of unknown entities 10 or 15 years ago. And the difference is AEDs.”
Gichard proved his fitness earlier this year when he took part in The Elevator, a gruelling relay race, travelling 52 kilometres and climbing 6,000 feet from Okanagan Lake to the top of Apex Mountain. That race, in March 2012, was the first ever, but Gichard has some plans for next year’s race. Working with Mike and Lyndie Hill of Hoodoo Adventures, the race sponsors, Gichard is challenging the community to enter relay teams in the race and raise funds to get more AEDs in the city.
“In talking with my cardiologist, we got talking about the need for more defibrillators around town. Some places, particularly in the U.S., you can’t walk 100 feet without seeing them in the airports, train stations and bus stations,” said Gichard. “People get fundraising to do these adventure races, what about if we set it up so that all of the money would go to getting a device into a location. It could be a secondary school, it could be a gymnasium, it could be one of the bigger businesses around town.”
“These are kind of a game changer really. We are really at the threshold, across Canada, they are rolling out these devices,” said Gichard, explaining that while training is helpful, the AEDs are designed to be simple to use. “You push the button and it talks you through everything. It even tells you when to do CPR compressions and the timing. Places where they have had a policy of installing more AEDs, like Washington state, the survival rate for SCA has gone up by 30 to 40 per cent.”
“Someone who is inexperienced with using them but is calm under some duress could work their way through it. You could train a large group of people to do it in a couple of hours,” said Kincade, who has trained people to use the AEDs. “But truthfully, if you opened the package and were in a situation where you had to, you could figure it out. It’s developed to be pretty fail-safe.”
Canada is not quite as advanced in the distribution of the devices in public and private locations, but Gichard thinks that with a little community spirit, Penticton could become a leader in this area. There are a few AEDs around town, but Gichard would like to see more.
“The fire department have them, search and rescue has one, there are two at the community centre, Penticton Golf Club has one, Summerland Golf Club has one, Apex Mountain now has two,” said Gichard, explaining that within a week of Apex getting their first AED, someone collapsed with an SCA and were revived. “People that go through these events, they are very grateful, my understanding is they went out and bought another one.”
While AEDs were once costly, the price has dropped to about $1,500, within reach of fundraising efforts, especially of a relay team. Gichard is understandably focused on getting one at the location where he had his SCA.
“My goal is to get an AED into Lion’s Park, that’s my motivation. I would hope I could encourage some of the slow and fast-pitch teams to get a team together, do some fundraising and get an AED down at the park,” he said, encouraging the baseball leagues to get relay teams together to take on The Elevator and the fundraising challenge.
While the website is still under construction, those interested in taking part in the Elevate for AEDs challenge can get more information, and as the March race approaches, sign up to make their pledges. More information about The Elevator itself, scheduled for March 23, is available at hoodooadventures.ca under the “racing and festivals” link.