Death on Metra train sparks debate

October 9, 2009 3:22:43 PM PDT
Should commuter trains and buses be equipped with automatic external defibrillators?Airplanes are required to have them.

Some are debating that question following the death of a Metra passenger who suffered a heart attack on Thursday.

The call went out on Metra run 610 - a passenger in cardiac arrest. Two nurses came to help crew members with CPR, but the 64-year-old passenger, a financial funds manager and Vietnam vet didn't make it. And some of those on board believe had there been an automatic external defibrillator on the train, the outcome might have been different.

"Having the ability to use a device like this on a patient who collapses suddenly can save precious seconds and every second counts," said Dr. Gary Schaer, Rush Medical Center.

Dr. Gary Schaer is a spokesman for the American Heart Association and heads the cardiac cath lab at Rush Medical. He says AEDs have demonstrated their ability to save lives many, many times over.

Chicago's airports installed them ten years ago, and in that decade the Aviation department says the AED's have saved, or prolonged lives 53 times.

The defibrillators self-prompt the user. They deliver an electrical current that can revive a heart attack victim.

The FAA mandated in 2001 that commercial aircraft be equipped with AEDs. Today they are commonplace in many public buildings.

Metra's five downtown terminals all have AEDs as do some of the suburban stations, but they are not now carried on Metra trains.

"It's certainly something we're looking at and we haven't decided not to do it. We're evaluating it, and if it's feasible we'll take a look at it," said Michael Gillis, Metra spokesman.

Putting AEDs on trains is a bit more problematic than fixing them to a station wall or carrying them on an airplane.

There are several hundred Metra train runs a day. There is cost, some measure of training required, and logistics. What car do you put them on? Train consists change frequently. How are they kept readily available and yet not be subject to vandalism or theft? All legitimate questions, but questions that Dr Schaer and others believe are answerable.

"There's no question in my mind that having these devices on Metra trains will save lives," said Schaer.

Metra has examined the AED issue in the past, and while it has no timetable for a decision, the death on board train 610 Thursday, and the public attention to it will certainly elevate the discussion.


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