MANATEE -- The AutoPulse doesn't come cheap at about $14,000 a pop, but with 855 cardiac arrest calls in Manatee County the past two years, they could save hundreds of lives.
The AutoPulse is a machine that does automatic chest compressions for CPR. A band wraps around the chest of the patient and covers the entire thorax, performing compressions that can exactly mimic the functions of the heart. Even if a person performed CPR chest compressions with their hands perfectly, they can only mimic up to 25 percent of the function of the heart, according to Steve Krivjanik, chief of Manatee County Emergency Medical Services.
"It provides the blood flow to the body to the extent that if the heart was never in cardiac arrest," Krivjanik said. "It's probably, in my three decades of working in this industry, the single most important piece of equipment I've seen short of a defibrillator."
Manatee County EMS bought eight AutoPulses that should be operational Sept. 1, according to Krivjanik. The machines were implemented in Broward County in 2008, said Krivjanik, who worked there at the time, andthe machine increased save rates in cardiac arrest cases from 3 percent to 45 percent.
The eight units cost a total of about $112,000, half of which was covered
by a state grant funded by traffic tickets. The other half came out of the capital expense budget for EMS. Krivjanik said he's hoping to get another five AutoPulses operational by Jan. 1, and to have all 18 county ambulances stocked with one by 2017, or 19 stocked ambulances if a pending budget request to the county for an additional ambulance is approved.
"To me, it's a small cost," Krivjanik said. "I mean, what's a life worth? That's nothing."
The band on the AutoPulse has to be replaced between each use and costs $100. Krivjanik said he's budgeted $7,800 per year for the cost of replacement bands.
In addition to better compressions, the AutoPulse also helps because it can continue compressions as the patient is moved. When a patient requires CPR, compressions should not be stopped for more than 10 seconds.
"When you think about it, it takes longer than 10 seconds to take someone down the stairs," Krivjanik said. "So with this, you can take someone down the stairs, you can drag them on a tarp, and this is still working. There's no pause in their blood flow or in CPR."
When paramedics administer CPR, Krivjanik said continuous compressions could be necessary for around 45 minutes. That means both more manpower required in an ambulance to rotate compression shifts, and tired paramedics, who on a bad day could be running three cardiac arrests in one shift.
"If you see anybody doing CPR and you see sweat pouring off of them, that's not fake," Krivjanik said. "It is a huge aerobic workout to do CPR, even for just two minutes. It's exhausting."
The AutoPulse doesn't just increase a cardiac arrest victim's chances of survival. It also cuts down on risk of brain damage while the heart isn't working, because it can fully maintain the blood flow that the heart performs normally.
Zandra Evans, the EMS territory manager for central Florida for Zoll, the vendor of AutoPulses, said there are many first-responder agencies in Florida that have the technology, which was developed in 2005, but Manatee is the second to get them countywide in the Tampa Bay region. Hillsborough was the first Tampa Bay county to get them in 2008, and the cities of Tampa and Plant City also use them.
Manatee's first eight will be distributed based on the concentration of cardiac arrest between July 2013 and July 2015. There were a total of 855 in that time period, and zones 10 and 16 had the largest number of calls at 88 and 87, respectively.
Zone 10 encompasses Cortez Road east of the Palma Sola Bay and zone 16 is the downtown and East Bradenton area.
"We get them everywhere," Krivjanik said. "It's one of the primary things we do, resuscitation after cardiac arrest."
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby