Critical care nurse Anne Holland has always worked to save lives. But when her husband, Paul, died after a cardiac arrest she was unable to save him. Now the Melbourne mother of five is working to raise awareness and is also campaigning for the introduction of life-saving automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in the community.

​The former Epworth HealthCare nurse, who worked as a level one operating suite critical care nurse for 20 years, is a registered first aid trainer and has launched a business, Defib First, providing information and training demonstrations to groups on how to use AEDs in a medical emergency.

The registered nurse is also campaigning for AEDs to be quickly and easily accessible at community hubs, such as supermarkets and businesses across Australia, similar to community access to AEDs in the United Kingdom.

With statistics showing cardiac arrests are the number one killer in the nation, Anne says it’s time the government legislated for AEDs to be compulsory – and as common as fire extinguishers.

​ “Fifty-six people died in fires or from smoke-related causes in Australia in 2013,” she says. “Obviously fire equipment has made an enormous impact on the reduction in the number of deaths, injury and property damage and all businesses have to have fire extinguishers and homes have to have smoke detectors and smoke alarms.

​“There are 33,000 cardiac arrests each year and getting that message through to government, the workplace and the general population that you are 590 times more likely to have to deal with a cardiac arrest than someone who is going to die in a fire – and yet we don’t have compulsory installation of AEDs or readily-accessible AEDs throughout the community.

​“That’s one of the points that does resonate with people, they don’t realise it’s as significant as that – it’s the number one killer. “It outstrips all cancers combined – it’s the one cause of death that you need the person standing next to you to do something about, and it’s the one cause of death that a person can reverse.

​“The one thing that matters is you get a defibrillator onto that person and the person next to you does it.”

​​“The one thing that matters is you get a defibrillator onto that person and the person next to you does it.” Many bystanders fear they will further harm someone suffering a sudden cardiac arrest when using an AED but that’s not the case, Anne says. “You can’t do any harm, you can only help this person, and if you get that defibrillator on quickly you are going to treble their likelihood of survival than if they had to wait for the paramedics to arrive with a defibrillator.

“Minutes matter to save someone and the longer it goes on, the less likely that they will survive. “One of the other major myths is that a cardiac arrest is not a heart attack and so many people believe that and believe they need to wait for doctors and paramedics. “When in actual fact, it’s the cardiac arrest they can treat.” Anne says AEDs can be used safely as they only work once they’ve detected a lethal heart rhythm.

“They must be on the body – the defibrillator looks for a heart beat, it decides whether it’s one that it can shock, and if it’s one that it can shock that’s lethal it will advise that it will shock. Other than that it won’t do anything.”

Emergency towers, which house AEDs, are available in many countries across the world for time critical response to a sudden cardiac arrest. The freestanding communication units, about the size of a parking meter, feature communication technology with a base station. “When the AED is removed they alert 000, they’ve got webcams and they’ve got solar power,” Anne says. “That’s another innovation that’s coming into this country that will also raise awareness.”

​Anne’s husband died at the age of 56 on a Sunday in February, 2008. Paul was fit and healthy, and had just returned from a two-hour bike ride when he died. “I thought he’d gone off to have a shower and three of our children were living at home that day, one was in London and another one was living away.

​ “It was one of my sons that found his dad. He was only 22 at the time and that was very, very stressful. “It was probably about 40 minutes or so when I’d last seen Paul, so when I got to him, there was nothing that could be done.

​“It’s seven and a half years now and you look at where life leads you. I was listening to (author) Pauline Nguyen recently at a luncheon. She said – the universe doesn’t hand you what you can’t handle.

​“It’s quite true and I think where I am now is what I can handle and what I can do to give something back and that makes Paul’s death at least a legacy, if you like.”

Anne knows more education and AEDs in the community will save lives.

“Six weeks before my husband died one of our close friends, Karen, did not wake up – she was 53,” she recalls.

“Our families had grown up together and our children had grown up together. We had two tragedies in a six week period in 2008.

“Our friend has three daughters and two of her daughters have the same underlying cardiac conditions. She did not have a heart attack by the way, she had a congenital condition of her heart that was passed on to two of her daughters.

“As a result of Karen’s death and six weeks later we were back at another funeral with Paul’s death, one of Karen’s son-in-laws put a defibrillator into his sporting club at Aberfeldie in Essendon.

“In 2013, at the next door tennis club, a man had a cardiac arrest – they smashed the window of the sports club where the defibrillator was and retrieved it and used it to save that man who was 41.

“Now, he went home to his family and as far as I know he’s still alive with his family.

“To us, that is the most magnificent reward and comfort to know that out of our two losses, someone else has lived and another family hasn’t gone through that,” she says.

“There is no way you can sugar-coat this – if someone’s in cardiac arrest they are dead. Anything you do is going to help them.”

  • Anne will launch her book, Back in a Heart Beat, which busts the myths and fears associated with sudden cardiac arrest and bystanders using defibrillators in October. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go into her not-for-profit campaign, Urban Lifesavers.
  • Defib for Life will host the inaugural Shock Around the Clock Gala Dinner at Melbourne’s Crown Towers on Friday, October 9 as part of ‘Shocktober’ – sudden cardiac arrest awareness month. The event will raise funds for AED education programs and widespread AED distribution in the community.

​By  Karen Keast Health Times 19-08-15