Heart Defibrillator

Two physiologists, Drs. Batelli and Prevost, discovered in 1899 at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, that dogs’ hearts would go into ventricular fibrillation when they administered small electrical impulses into them. Fibrillation is an erratic twitching of the muscle fibers of the heart that cause it to beat out of sync with the pulse and, when allowed to continue unabated, can be fatal.

Drs. Batelli and Prevost also discovered that larger electrical shocks stopped the dogs’ hearts from fibrillating and restored their heartbeats back to a normal, healthy pace. This discovery led to the eventual development of the heart defibrillator, a medical device that has saved countless lives since that time.

As a surgery professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1947, Dr. Claude Beck observed that ventricular fibrillation occurred fairly often when a patient’s heart wasn’t all that diseased. He described them as “heart(s) too good to die” and he became determined to find a way to save the lives of these people.

Beck’s breakthrough moment occurred in the operating room with a 14-year-old heart patient suffering from a congenital heart disorder. The boy was undergoing open heart surgery and required 45 minutes of manual cardiac massage to keep blood flowing adequately. Beck called for a heart defibrillator, which at that time was a large, unwieldy device on wheels that worked basically as an electrical transformer.

When Beck administered the drug, procainamide, applied the two paddles of the heart defibrillator to the patient’s heart, and transmitted a shock, the boy’s heart regained a natural, healthy rhythm.

Since that time, the heart defibrillator has gone through a remarkable series of evolutions and, today, one version of the heart defibrillator is a small, fully automated device that someone with no medical training at all can use.

In Frunze, USSR, during the 1950s, Dr. V. Eskin and his assistant, A. Klimov, perfected the closed-chest heart defibrillator, which eliminated the need for surgically opening the chest cavity to administer a life-saving shock.

In the 1960s, Professor Frank Pantridge engineered a portable form of heart defibrillator he could take to patients wherever they happened to be in Belfast, Ireland. Until that time, the only hope of defibrillation occurred when a patient’s ventricular fibrillation or tachycardia happened with medical professionals as direct eyewitnesses to the event.

The heart defibrillator got smaller and much less bulky in the 1980s when an engineer, Barouh Berkovits, devised a better way to apply the electrical shock. His inspiration came from the work of Bernard Lown.

Heart defibrillators got even smaller when a team of doctors at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, developed a defibrillator that could be implanted directly into the patient’s body. It went everywhere with the patient and produced electrical impulses any time its monitor detected irregular rhythms.

Today’s heart patient can have an automated heart defibrillator at home, in his car, and everywhere he chooses to take it. In many cases, an implanted device isn’t necessary and the patient can carry it with almost the same ease as carrying a briefcase or camera case.

If the heart defibrillator case gets left at home, there’s little need to worry. A growing number of public places have automated heart defibrillators installed on site where they’re handy whenever the need arises. And they’re so easy to use, no formal training is required.