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Defibrillator buy sparked by on-the-job heart attack

Lt. Mike Shults was saved by machine after his heart stopped during training
by: John Klicker, From left Steve Dangler, Lt. Michael Shults and Rian Hakala stand with an automated defibrillator. The two river patrol deputies were with Shults during a training session two months ago when he had a devastating heart attack. The defibrillator at the training site in Warrenton saved his life.

Nobody knows the value of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office's 20 new defibrillators better than one of its own.

Lt. Mike Shults, 43, of Clackamas County returned to work on Wednesday, July 12, as head of the river patrol after having an on-the-job heart attack two months ago.

Had it not been for the defibrillator that trainers brought in as part of some physically taxing drills on the Oregon Coast, he'd have died.

His coworkers have since pooled their money to buy Shults a personal defibrillator that his wife Robin makes him take everywhere he goes.

Now, the same device will be in 12 patrol cars, some of which cruise through Corbett and Wood Village. The other eight will go to two sergeants, buildings frequented by sheriff's office employees and to the county's river patrol bases, including one at Chinook Landing.

Previous program fizzled

Back in 1994, the sheriff's office teamed up with American Medical Response to receive seven defibrillators. Over four years, deputies used the devices to save the lives of two heart attack victims, said Sgt. Jason Gates, who after Shults' heart attack, took over for him as sheriff's office spokesman.

But the heavy, bulky defibrillators required constant maintenance and labor-intensive training similar to that received by emergency medical technicians. Batteries had to be charged every six months and only seven deputies were certified to use the machines.

Over time, the program fizzled. For nearly 10 years, the defibrillators gathered dust in storage. However, the need for immediate cardiac arrest response remained.

With each minute after a sudden cardiac arrest, a patient's survival rate drops by about 10 percent. About 340,000 people die a year in the United States from sudden cardiac arrest. That's one death every 90 seconds. Also, only 20 percent of sudden cardiac arrests happen in a hospital.

Because sheriff's deputies patrol rural areas that are typically farther from hospitals and paramedics, the sheriff's office considered reinstating the program - especially as airports and schools have purchased the life-saving devices.

Close call spurs action

Then Shults almost died.

It was May 21, and Shults was finishing a grueling two-week training at Camp Rilea in Warrenton. Law enforcement officials from across the state had gathered to act out scenarios - all while in full patrol gear and treading water in a swimming pool.

Shults crawled out of the pool and suddenly felt lightheaded. Knowing something was wrong, he told the guy in front of him to keep an eye on him. Shults went to kneel on one knee but ended up on both.

'I couldn't talk but thought, 'Shoot, I'm in trouble,' and then I went out,' Shults said.

A blockage in his artery, teamed with the physical exertion of the training, brought on a heart attack. Lucky for Shults, a swarm of paramedics in the same training with him used a nearby defibrillator to jump-start his heart.

After Shults' near-fatal heart attack, Sheriff Bernie Giusto OKed buying 20 easy-to-use automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, for $1,400 each.

The new compact Philips HeartStart FRx defibrillators come with four-year batteries and require just 15 minutes of training.

'You don't even need to know how to read,' Gates marveled.

A mellow voice guides the user through the self-paced process - the voice won't continue providing instruction until each step is complete. It even does self-diagnostic tests on the patient.

The county sheriff's office, which patrols rural parts of unincorporated Multnomah County, is the only law enforcement agency in the tri-county area with the devices. Most police departments are close enough to an urban area to be near hospitals and fire stations staffed by paramedics, said Officer Grant McCormick, spokesman for the Gresham Police Department.

Shults said the defibrillators can be used to revive heart attack victims, as well as those involved in accidents or drownings.

Also, a heart attack patient has a 50-percent greater chance of survival if treated with a defibrillator within four minutes of the cardiac emergency.

After a few months off, Shults is doing fine. He's just glad something positive has come from his near-death experience and hopes many more lives than his will be saved with the new devices.