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NFL cardiac arrest highlights Montreal ER doctor's mission to put defibrillators on the map

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While millions of people around the world were watching Monday Night Football, a Montreal ER doctor and cardiac arrest researcher was listening to music and enjoying some rare downtime at home, when his phone started buzzing.

"I had many, many people that know me saying, ‘Are you watching the Buffalo Bills NFL game? Because there's a cardiac arrest going on live and there's a resuscitation,’" said Dr. Francois de Champlain.

He turned on the television immediately.

Buffalo defensive back Damar Hamlin, 24, was lying on the field at the time, surrounded by emergency medical personnel and tearful teammates.

De Champlain's interest in the emergency response to Hamlin's cardiac arrest was not only professional, but it was also deeply personal – it's how he lost his father 14 years ago.

"Absolutely, this is very personal and gave me a purpose of advocacy for this cause for sure," he told CTV News in an interview.

It's also why along with working as an emergency room doctor at the MUHC, he's president of the Fondation Jacques-de Champlain, a charitable organization named for his father that promotes easy and rapid public access to automated external defibrillators (AEDs).

To accomplish that, the foundation developed a free mobile app called AED-Quebec, which transposed a provincial AED registry onto a map, allowing users to locate the nearest available AED.

The app also contains information about CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and how to administer the emergency procedure.

All the same information and the map displaying AED locations in Quebec are also available online.

NO TRAINING NEEDED

"It's important to repeat: you do not need training to use an AED. And you do not need training to do CPR, and therefore you do not need training to save a life," said de Champlain.

For those who think they’d be scared to use the defibrillator if they had to, de Champlain offers some reassurance.

“You can never give a shock when it's not recommended. Because it's the algorithm of the machine that will analyze if a shock is required or not,” he explained.

And, in the case of cardiac arrest, time is the enemy. "You cannot wait for a paramedic, nurse or a doctor to come and help you," since irreversible brain damage can begin to occur within five minutes following the cardiac event.

De Champlain said the Quebec government is also stepping up to help its mission and there will be good news announced "relatively" soon.

"The government is injecting money for 1,000 AEDs in public places in Quebec. They started putting some in ATMs," he said, since bank lobbies are open around the clock.

The foundation is working with the government to pass "legislation in this present mandate," to help make the system as robust as possible.

CTV News contacted Quebec's health ministry seeking more information about the AED project but has not yet received a reply.

So far, however, 5,500 AEDs installed in public places have been registered voluntarily with the province. The foundation would like AED registration to be mandatory and would like the installation of AEDs in specified public places to be mandatory as well.

"That's the key," de Champlain said.

THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES

In 2009, his father, a cardiologist with no prior symptoms of heart disease, was cycling in Richford, Vermont and on his way back to Sutton, Quebec when he suffered a heart attack that caused a cardiac arrest.

But Dr. Jacques de Champlain's chances of survival were determined by what happened in the minutes that followed his collapse, which is why what happened to Hamlin serves as a meaningful opportunity to spread awareness, his son explained.

When Hamlin fell backwards and lay motionless on the turf on Monday at 8:55 p.m., an ambulance was on the field four minutes later.

While the health crisis was chilling for all to witness, the very fact that Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest in such a public space with medical equipment available, is ultimately what helped him.

"This is an NFL protocol to have, like a full medical team. They brought the defibrillator…as soon as he was in complete cardiac arrest they shocked him at least once," de Champlain said.

"If you use the defibrillator, within the first five minutes, actually, your chance of survival is greater than 50 per cent, which is great," de Champlain said.

"This incident is a reminder that there's no place in the world where ambulances get there in less than five minutes. Here, for an NFL game…they were standing by…but in real life, this does not happen to normal citizens."

In everyday life then, he said, bystanders in this situation need to call 911, begin CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), and send someone to retrieve the closest defibrillator.

They need to bring it back to the patient, "and not fear using it even without prior training," de Champlain said.

The AED device provides a user with prompts, and a 911 operator will also offer guidance.

In the case of his father, there was a defibrillator not very far from where he lay on the ground, but no one knew where it was, not even the American 911 dispatcher.

"The ambulance took 27 minutes to get there," said de Champlain.

Tragically, although the CPR he received on the scene helped provide some blood flow to organs suffering from a lack of oxygen, it could not restore his heartbeat, and he died before paramedics arrived with a defibrillator.

De Champlain does not think the response time would have been any different on the Quebec side of the border about two kilometres away.

The foundation's website explains, "there was no first responder service in place and no rapid access to cardiac defibrillation in this rural area."

"And this is not rare in Quebec, because, you know, we have a lot of land to cover."

"So it's our duty as citizens," he said, to take the first steps: to download the AED-Quebec app, to use a defibrillator if you need to and to "make the difference between life and death."

De Champlain said the tragic family event is what gives him "the energy to continue" to put as many publicly accessible AEDs as possible on the map in Quebec.

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