by Frank Lee
St. Joseph residents facing a potentially fatal heart condition may get a second chance at life thanks to the generosity of donors who recently raised enough money to purchase a defibrillator.
The St. Joseph Police Department has five squad cars, with four of them being used on a “regular basis” because of their life-saving medical equipment, while the fifth car was somewhat lacking.
“I put some feelers out there, members of the community came forward and helped with that, so we were able to get that defibrillator for that fifth squad car,” said Police Chief Joel Klein. “And now every squad car I have is equipped with the same defibrillator.”
An automated external defibrillator is a “portable device that delivers an electric shock through the chest to the heart (to) stop an irregular heart rhythm and allow a normal rhythm to resume following sudden cardiac arrest,” according to the American Heart Association.
“Sudden cardiac arrest” is an abrupt loss of heart function that if left untreated can quickly lead to death within minutes, according to the Dallas-based AHA, which is the nation’s oldest and largest voluntary organization dedicated to fighting heart disease and stroke.
“There is a need to have them available,” Klein said of defibrillators that are readily accessible, especially with two senior-living projects underway in St. Joseph.
Construction on the Fortitude Senior Living of St. Joseph apartment building, located in Graceview Estates, began in the middle of August and is expected to be finished in May.
The building, owned by Tom Opatz and Fred Struzyk, is three stories with 40,000 square feet. It includes 47 units and an elevator at an estimated cost of the building at more than $5 million.
“The population is aging anyways,” Klein said. “But now you add two senior living facilities in St. Joseph, it’s that much more important to have a tool in your toolbox that can help sustain somebody’s life.”
In April, Country Manor Campus gave a presentation to the St. Joseph Planning Commission about another proposed senior-living facility, which would be located along CR 121, west of Kennedy Community School, with an estimated construction cost of more than $14 million.
That project would include 60 independent-living units and 24 units for memory care, and stores and services such as a beauty shop and spa, a general store with an in-house coffee shop, a convenience store, a chapel, a bistro, outpatient rehabilitation and underground parking.
“The older defibrillators, when you ordered batteries for them, the batteries would cost anywhere from $200 to $300 because it’s a brand-specific battery,” Klein said. “The ones we have now, I can go to the hardware store, and it would only cost me like $70 to replace the batteries.”
The other advantage of the defibrillators the police department now carries for when officers respond to emergencies is Gold Cross Ambulance Service also possesses the same brand of medical equipment.
“When we need defibrillator pads, if we use them, they give us replacements right away, so it’s not like I have to order another set and wait for them,” Klein said, referring to Gold Cross. “And if they need to continue to use the pads that we have on somebody, they can just plug it into their rig.”
Most sudden cardiac arrests result from ventricular fibrillation, which is a rapid and unsynchronized heart rhythm starting in the heart’s lower pumping chambers. The heart must be defibrillated quickly because a victim’s chance of surviving drops by seven to 10 percent for every minute a normal heartbeat isn’t restored, according to the AHA.
Kwik Trip, Sons of the American Legion, St. Joseph Y2K Lions, St. Joseph Lions, St. Joseph Jaycees, GM Drilling and Rug Doctor, Kris and Traci Haugen, Bob Willard Foundation, Dean and Karen Schenk, and Rudy Gapko helped pay for the $1,640 defibrillator, Klein said.
Klein and St. Joseph Fire Chief Jeff Taufen talked about equipment requests their respective departments could use at the October Y2K Lions meeting held at the Church of St. Joseph Parish Center, which included a request for an automated external defibrillator for the fifth squad car.
Lions President Becky Staneart had asked both of them at a Local Heroes Appreciation Picnic at St. Joseph Millstream Park in August if Klein and Taufen had any equipment-funding requests and when they said “yes,” she invited them to the Y2K Lions meeting to discuss their requests.
“We haven’t had to use defibrillators that often,” Klein said. “But obviously that’s one of those things where you don’t want to be without one, and if you save one life with it, then it’s well worth it. That dollar amount to buy one doesn’t even come close to saving somebody’s life.”