Batteries Dead in Defibrillator ; Man Dies Shortly After

By: Meagan O'Halloran Email
By: Meagan O'Halloran Email

Automatic External Defibrillators, better known as AED's, use electric shock to restore a patient's heartbeat.
Many first responders now carry portable battery-powered AED's for use at emergency scenes.

But some people are blaming one of the devices for playing a role in the death of a man in Walton County last week.

On Monday June 28th, 62 year old Kentucky resident John Hess entered the water in the Gulf behind Hidden Dunes Resort in Miramar Beach.

Surf conditions were rough and red flags were flying.

Sean Hughes of the South Walton Fire District says the waters were not safe for the public to swim in that day."Under red flags, knee-deep is too deep, so... certainly at the shoreline, but any deeper than that you run a serious risk of getting into trouble."

Hess did get into trouble.
He was pulled from the water at 1:20 in the afternoon.
Walton County Sheriff's deputies arrived on scene two minutes later, with the South Walton Fire District arriving six minutes after deputies.

By 2:00 John Hess was dead.

Before the fire district paramedics arrived, an off-duty doctor on the scene, asked one of the walton county deputies for an automatic external defibrillator, or a-e-d, to treat hess.

"We were made aware that they were asking for that and there wasn't one available" says Hughes.

Camile Cox,Public Information Officer for the Walton County Sheriff's Office says the AED was on scene but didn't have working batteries. She says the deputies on scene did all they could to find an alternative defribillator.

"They actually went to Hidden Dunes to see if there was one in their workout room, but his (the deputy's) just did not have a battery, a working battery. He had notified our AED coordinator. The battery was ordered and was replaced the very next day."

Sheriff's officials say they don't have any records of that particular AED's last inspection.

They are not checked daily because the batteries usually last four-to-five years.
"The AED by design is not necessarily supposed to be checked daily because it's long term, sitting idling, waiting for use. I can't speak to what their maintenance schedules are or how they're being maintained" Hughes says.

Back in 2005, The South Walton Fire District gave the Sheriff's Office thirty brand new defibrillators obtained through a grant, but the upkeep is the responsibility of the Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff's officials say they ordered a battery for the AED in question before the incident because of a routine inspection

"We have a Lieutenant at the Sheriff's Office who monitors that equipment. They do an inspection once every three months" Cox says.
When asked when the last inspection was Cox stated "I'm not sure, but I know they do them periodically".

Even if the defibrillator was working, it's no guarantee Hess would have survived.

Hughes says there's no way to tell.

"Not every heart attack is a shockable rhythm. Shocking everyone?... If you're under the belief that's the course of action, it's not necessarily the course of action. It interprets it and if it's a shockable rhythm it will deliver a shock. It's all speculation in these set of circumstances. Would it have made a difference? I don't think anyone could say conclusively yes or no" Hughes says.

The Walton County Sheriff's Office says AED's are a luxury device for law enforcement officers, and that tight budgets prohibit them from ordering a supply of 'backup batteries'.

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