From dogs to tablespoons to Zolls, AEDs have come a long way
As you can tell, we’re on a bit of a history kick here at Cardio Partners and AED.com! This week we’re dialing the way-back machine to 1899 to learn more about the origins of defibrillation and the birth of AEDs. To learn more about the History of CPR, check out last week’s post!
1899: The Dog Days of Defibrillation
Defibrillation was discovered at the University of Geneva in 1899 by physiologists Jean-Louis Prevost and Frédéric Batelli. In the course of their research on ventricular fibrillation — a condition that occurs when the heart beats with rapid and erratic electrical impulses and causes the chambers in the heart to quiver ineffectively — they discovered that they could induce fibrillation in dogs and then, with an even higher jolt, defibrillate by applying high-current shocks directly to the surface of the heart.
Admittedly, this was a pretty significant discovery, but because they used a very high voltage, the poor pup’s heart was ultimately incapacitated and subsequent defibrillation theories focused more on the harmful effects of the procedure rather than the potential positive, life-saving effects we’re all familiar with today (National Center for Biotechnology Information).
1933: Self-Starter for Dead Man’s Heart
A generation later, in October of 1933, Popular Mechanics ran an article about Dr. Albert S. Hyman’s promising new invention, Hyman’s Otor.
The device was essentially a “hollow steel needle, through which a carefully insulated wire runs to the open point. Both the needle itself and its central wire are connected to the terminals of a light, spring-driven generator, provided with a current-interrupting device. This mechanism can be adjusted to give electrical impulses with the frequency of the heart-beat from infancy to old age. When the physician faces a case of heart stoppage, he inserts the needle between the first and second ribs into the right auricle of the heart, and starts the generator at the required frequency” (Source: Modern Mechanix).
The device was tested on animals and revived 14 out of 43 victims of cardiac arrest (Science Museum, London). Even though the device received positive press coverage, it was perceived as interfering with natural events and was not accepted by the medical community.
1947: What a Difference a Decade Makes…and Spoons
If you’ve been wondering where the tablespoons come in, you’re about to find out! The first successful defibrillation was reported by an American surgeon, Dr. Claude S. Beck, in 1947.
His patient, a 14-year-old boy, “tolerated the surgery well but went into cardiac arrest during closure” (Resuscitation Journal). Using a combination of direct cardiac massage, drugs, and a shock delivered by what appears to be gauze-covered spoons, the boy was successfully resuscitated (Case Western Reserve University).
1950: Zoll Begins Working on an External Pacemaker
Yes, the Zoll that we all know and love was founded by a Harvard cardiologist and an AED pioneer. “In 1952, Dr. Zoll and a team of other doctors in Boston applied electric charges externally to the chest to resuscitate two patients whose hearts had stopped. The first patient lived only 20 minutes. The second patient survived for 11 months, after 52 hours of electrical stimulation” (New York Times).
1965: Defibrillators Go Mobile
In 1965, a professor from Northern Ireland, Frank Pantridge, invented the world’s first portable defibrillator. Known as “the father of emergency medicine,” Pantridge’s device relied on a car battery for current. The 150 pound device was installed in an ambulance and was first used in 1966 (BBC News).
1972: LBJ is Saved Today
In 1972, when President Lyndon B. Johnson suffered a massive heart attack at his daughter’s Virginia home, he was revived by a portable defibrillator.
“Dr. Richard S. Crampton of the University of Virginia Medical School in Charlottesville, who rushed a mobile coronary care unit to former President Lyndon B. Johnson…said in an interview: ‘It has tremendous potential application. Conceptually, this ought to be on every plane, train, bus, at stations and at airports, in case someone suddenly collapses. It’s like a fire extinguisher; you just hang it on the wall and you go put out the fire, which happens to be ventricular fibrillation’” (New York Times).
2018: Where We Are With AEDs Now
Today, portable AEDs are so easy to use that many states require their placement in schools, sports arenas, airports, health clubs, casinos, and other public places. Portable AEDs are also available for home use.
Unlike professor Pantridge’s “portable” defibrillator, modern AEDs typically weigh approximately 3 pounds and are fully automated.