The morning of Feb. 7 started out like any other day for Floyd Justice, an emergency medical technician at Winn Army Community Hospital.
He had just finished his 24-hour shift and daily workout at Newman Fitness Center. At around 8:30 a.m., he was about to head home when he heard the cry for a medic.
Justice responded and found Spc. Paul Delano lying on the ground unconscious. Two other soldiers already were on the scene, but Justice immediately took charge.
“I opened his airway, checked for a radial pulse and I didn’t feel anything,” Justice said. “He took a couple of gasping breaths and then stopped breathing.”
A few other medics arrived to assist Justice. They didn’t exchange names; they just worked as a team to help. Justice said he checked Delano’s carotid artery and he instructed another medic to check as well.
“I just wanted to confirm that there wasn’t a heartbeat,” he said. “However, it really doesn’t matter, if you have no signs of life start CPR immediately. Don’t wait.”
While Justice and the medic performed chest compressions, another soldier went to get the on-site automated external defibrillator.
Delano had experienced sudden cardiac arrest from ventricular fibrillation — a rapid and irregular heart rhythm originating in the heart’s lower chambers. An AED delivers an electric shock through the chest to the heart. The shock stops the heart and allows a normal rhythm to resume. According to the American Heart Association, when this happens, the heart must be defibrillated quickly because a victim’s chance of survival drops 7-10 percent every minute a normal heartbeat isn’t restored.
The ambulance arrived after the first defibrillation cycle.
“We got him onto a spine board and [the AED] analyzed the rhythm again. It said clear and we shocked him again” Justice said. “I reached up and checked for a pulse. I could feel one, and then he opened his eyes.”
Delano was taken to Winn ACH for advanced cardiac life support, and then transported to St. Joseph’s Candler in Savannah. He was released four days later and is expected to make a full recovery.
As for Justice, he and his coworkers would like for this event to help facilitate the full execution of the public AED program around Fort Stewart.
“I started trying to get a public access defibrillation program on this installation in 2007,” said Walter Nichols Jr., chief of the ambulance section at Winn ACH. “It took until 2009 to physically get AEDs in all public facilities. However, many places don’t have them out. A lot of them are in storage rooms or offices rather than out in a public area, clearly marked and ready for an emergency situation.”
Fortunately for Delano, the AED at Newman Fitness Center is out and appropriately marked, but Nichols still would like the Fort Stewart leadership to put more emphasis on the program.
Training is always good, but it isn’t necessary as the AED activates upon opening and then uses plain English to walk the user through the process. What is necessary is having the additional supplies on hand should they be needed. Nichols explained each kit should include a rescue pack, which contains sterile gloves, a CPR mouth barrier, scissors and a razor.
“The razor is included because the pads must be placed directly on a bare chest for the system to advance to the shocking stage,” said Nichols. “If someone has a hairy chest the AED won’t work.”
Justice and Nichols would like more awareness of the public AED program because medics are not always available when an incident occurs, and with cardiac arrest, response time could mean the difference between life and death. While they can’t definitively say the on-site AED was responsible for Delano’s survival, they agree it was definitely a factor.
“The events played out where everything was in place perfectly,” Nichols said. “There were personnel there who knew how to do CPR correctly and there was an AED in that building. They had a similar event in that building a few years back, but there was no AED in the building at the time. And although CPR was started immediately, that soldier died. Now you have the same event, in the same building — which now has an AED — and you get a completely different outcome. It makes a difference.”