When a stranger goes into cardiac arrest in a public place, people know to call 911. Some understand how to start CPR.
The best solution when available is reaching for an AED, or automated external defibrillator.
But while they’re accessible in many Winona businesses and public places, most people never think to look for them.
Andy Teska is trying to change that.
Teska, a paramedic with the Winona Area Ambulance Service, recently started Project Helping Hearts. The organization’s goal is to register the location of all AEDs in Winona, and eventually for an emergency dispatcher to be able to send a message to the cellphones of everyone in the area of a device when someone needs help.
Teska was a paramedic in Chippewa Falls, Wis., for six years and has been in Winona for a year. He said he knew from a young age he wanted to work in the emergency field, and today when he’s not in an ambulance, he’s working as a part-time firefighter.
He’s trying to create a model for Project Helping Hearts that fits a smaller city, he said. He knows of similar programs in Minneapolis and in large cities on the West Coast but not in any city comparable to Winona.
So he and others with the ambulance service are going door-to-door, visiting businesses, schools and other locations with AEDs and registering them.
His urgency to register the devices is based on basic math: Brain function can be affected just two minutes after the cardiac arrest, but it can take an ambulance five minutes to get to a scene.
“We’re really trying to reduce that,” Teska said. “People are two to three times more likely to survive if someone puts an AED on than just doing CPR.”
The goal is to have all area AEDs registered by early spring, which so far has proved a difficult task for the ambulance service employees. After all, it’s not their primary job — they fit in visits when they can.
Teska hopes businesses and places that have AEDs will take a few minutes to call the ambulance service to register the devices. “We want this to be a community project,” he said.