Interview with Tony Walker, CEO, Victorian Ambulance and
Kevin McSweeney, Paramedic & Director Michael Hughes Foundation
Extract: MHF Life, 1st Edition, 2018
Publishing Partner: Access News
Our series on the Michael Hughes Foundation continues with the message of paramedics who say the interventions of bystanders before emergency services arrive on the scene can boost survival rates of sudden cardiac arrest patients.
As a NSW Ambulance paramedic, Kevin McSweeney is confronted with life and death moments every day.
“There is no greater thrill than being able to save someone’s life,” said Mr McSweeney, Inspector at Northmead Superstation.
When he’s not on the job as a rescue and special operations paramedic, Mr McSweeney can often be found heading up first aid training courses for the Michael Hughes Foundation, an organisation raising awareness of sudden cardiac arrest and rolling out defibrillators across the state.
Mr McSweeney said while cardiac arrest doesn’t discriminate by age (“It’s not necessarily the domain of the elderly. In one shift I have attended four cardiac arrests. Three of them were 45 years of age”), there is one thing that separates survivors from those that die – public intervention.
“We’ve got a better chance of bringing someone back if they’ve received CPR,” he said. “It takes an average of eight to 10 minutes to get to any given job and within 10 minutes there’s not a lot of hope if nothing is being done. CPR keeps the brain alive so we’ve got a much better chance of saving a life.”
That philosophy is shared by colleagues at Ambulance Victoria where chief executive Tony Walker said: “It takes a community to save a life”.
“For all intents and purposes, a patient who has suffered cardiac arrest is dead so to be able to resuscitate someone, particularly when someone has done CPR to give them the best chance, we’re giving them their life back,” he said.
“It is such a reward to be able to work with the community like that, after all, we’re only as good as the people there before us.”
Speaking ahead of the Michael Hughes Foundation’s Gala Dinner on October 19 where he will be guest speaker, Mr Walker revealed the impact innovative programs are having on sudden cardiac arrest survival rates in Victoria.
This includes the GoodSAM app which connects people in cardiac arrest with a community of registered trained responders nearby who can provide help while emergency services are on route. Launched earlier this year, Mr Walker said the app had already saved three lives.
And artificial intelligence technology is being explored in call centres to identify signs of a cardiac arrest call faster than can be recognised by the call taker.
While there was some “real innovative work happening”, Mr Walker said the age-old message remains: bystander-initiated CPR and early defibrillation result in the best survival rates.
“You don’t have to be trained in CPR to make a difference although it’s ideal if you are. Any resuscitation is better than none, you may just save a life.”
The Michael Hughes Foundation training courses teach effective CPR and defibrillation.
“There are 33,000 Australians a year that have an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest and the survival rates I would suggest are less than nine per cent,” Mr McSweeney said.
“We want that person standing nearby to be a first responder and if I can give that someone the confidence to do quality CPR then I’ve done my job.”