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Enactus Memorial drones flying AEDs to cardiac arrest patients

By Susan White

Enactus Memorial has set its sights on saving lives in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Enactus Memorial president Stephen Browne holds a drone that's carrying an AED. Enactus members Robyn Budgell and Hannah Blundon are in the background holding the remote control.
Stephen Browne, president of Enactus Memorial, with Robyn Budgell and Hannah Blundon in the background.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

The undergraduate student group launched HeartStarter during an event at Memorial’s business faculty on Feb. 7. The project will use drones to deliver life-saving automated external defibrillators (AEDs) to people experiencing cardiac arrest who don’t have immediate access to medical care.

“Time is the critical factor in these situations,” said Stephen Browne, president of Enactus Memorial and a fifth-year commerce student at the Faculty of Business Administration. “The more readily accessible AEDs are in the community, the greater potential for positive outcomes to these tragic events.”

Time is critical

According to Rescue 7, a Canadian AED distributor and health and safety training provider, sudden cardiac arrests affect 400,000-460,000 people each year across North America.

Eighty-four per cent of those happen away from health-care settings.

“If we save one life, wouldn’t that be worth it?” — Gerry Locke

Gerry Locke, owner of the Newfoundland and Labrador branch of Rescue 7 and a firefighter with the St. John’s Regional Fire Department, says that’s key in a province where hunters, hikers, fishers and many others are often in the outdoors where access to first responders or hospitals isn’t easily or quickly available.

“We’d love to have someone starting CPR on someone’s chest at a minimum within four minutes of the heart not beating effectively,” he said. “As long as you’re doing effective CPR, and a defibrillator arrives, the survival rate increases.”

Chances of survival increase

CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, doesn’t restart the heart; it keeps blood and oxygen flowing to the brain until the heart receives an electric shock through defibrillation.

As people experiencing cardiac arrest may quickly lose consciousness, survival rates decrease by 10 per cent per minute from the time of collapse to defibrillation.

With CPR alone, the survival rate is less than five per cent but when combined with an AED within a few minutes, the chances of survival drastically increase to up to 75 per cent.

A drone in the air carries an automated external defibrillators, or AED.
The Enactus Memorial drone during a test run earlier this month.
Photo: Submitted

“If you look at spots like Rennie’s Mill walking trail or the East Coast Trail, there’s a delayed access in getting first responders there,” said Mr. Locke, who has been consulting with Enactus Memorial in developing HeartStarter. “That’s not uncommon to see, the delay in getting defibrillators. Paramedics and ambulances don’t have wings to fly and get to you.”

That’s why he’s excited about HeartStarter.

“I feel very confident about this project, and I think it actually could save a life. And if we save one life, wouldn’t that be worth it?”

Advocacy and education

The first HeartStarter drone cost $10,000. It will soon be implemented at a local fire department for the project’s pilot phase.

There, firefighters will be trained and licensed to fly the drone to deliver an AED once an emergency call is received.

Enactus Memorial plans to work with Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador to expand the project to other areas in the province.

“An AED can’t be used to save a life if nobody knows where it is.” — Robyn Budgell

Robyn Budgell, vice-president of Enactus Memorial, says the project also includes an education component to help people improve their cardiac health as well as advocacy to create a provincial AED registry. Private citizens who own AEDs will be able register them using an app called Pulse Point.

“Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province in Canada without an AED registry,” she said. “This needs to change. We, as a province, need to know where all AEDs are located at all times. An AED can’t be used to save a life if nobody knows where it is.”

Hannah Blundon holds an AED device on the left, Stephen Browne in the middle holds a drone, and Robyn Budgell on the right holds the drone remote control.
From left are Hannah Blundon, Stephen Browne and Robyn Budgell of Enactus Memorial.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

Mr. Browne says the group’s goal is to register 300 AEDs by the end of the first month of the project, and run educational sessions for 400 people by the end of March.

“We’re looking to impact the long-term heart health of the province,” he added.

Enactus Memorial has partnered with DroneNL, owned by former Enactus Memorial president Jon King, and the Heart & Stroke Foundation for the project. The group is looking for other community partners to help fund and support HeartStarter.

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