Less than six minutes is all you get to save someone after they collapse from sudden cardiac arrest, something Aleksander Macander discovered when, on a rainy Saturday, the 74-year-old went to the gym and hopped onto his favorite elliptical machine.
"I was close to one hour on the machine,” he said. “Then I felt a little queasiness, a weakness in myself, like I better give up, turn the resistance down, and I was about to do that … and then things become blank."
Macander's heart had stopped.
But a man working out on the elliptical next to him remembered seeing a metal box hanging over the water fountain at their gym inside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville, Maryland. He grabbed the AED inside and used it so quickly, he literally brought Macander back from the dead.
"The AED, the defibrillator, that was the responsible piece of equipment that brought me back to life," Macander said.
Montgomery County Fire Chief Scott Goldstein calls AEDs amazing machines because they really do work when your heart has an electrical failure.
“Most folks do come back,” he said.
But Goldstein explained that for every minute that goes by, your chances of surviving decreases by 10 percent.
If it takes three minutes to apply the AED, you have a 70 percent chance at survival.
"If you work in a facility, live in a facility, frequent a facility where there is an AED, take the step to get the basic training," Goldstein said.
Montgomery County Fire Capt. Bob Lindsey showed us how easy they are to use.
"The nice thing about defibrillators is they will tell you exactly what to do," he said as he opened an AED he uses for training.
He hit a button, followed the machine’s instructions on where to place two pads and then listened as the machine analyzed our training dummy. The AED then told us to stand back so we could deliver a shock by pressing a button. It then prompted us to start CPR.
Even if you’ve never had any AED training but see a defibrillator, you should use it, Lindsey said. He explained the machine will not deliver a shock unless it’s necessary and it’s very difficult to cause any additional harm to the patient.
“The worst thing to do,” he said. “Is nothing.”
But the devices won't work if the batteries aren't charged.
Laurel Mayor Craig Moe said the batteries powering their old AEDs were supposed to last several years.
“But we found out the hard way,” he said. “Found out that the battery was dead. So it got to be too much for an individual, which is why we looked at the service contract."
Laurel now spends $26,000 a year to pay an outside company to check the batteries and the pads on more than 100 devices located throughout the city and even in police cars, Moe said.
And they did it just in the nick of time, Moe said. The newly charged units have already saved at least one life. "It's $26,000 well spent."
You can often tell if a device is charged by looking through a small glass window, typically found on the top right hand corner of the device. Depending on the model, you should see a slow, green blinking light, a check mark or a battery symbol – all which indicate the device is ready to go.
The News4 I-Team checked out more than 100 AEDs throughout the D.C. area within the past month and found about half clearly showed the batteries were working, including devices at Martin Luther King Library in the District and at Reagan National and Dulles Airports.
At Tyson's Corner Center, the I-Team even saw a visible list of recent inspection dates.
Fairfax County reports it has more than 400 AEDs in its county buildings, all of which are checked by their internal emergency management department.
But the I-Team couldn't tell if the batteries were charged in about 8 percent of the devices because we couldn't see a light or any type of marking.
We contacted the locations. All said they inspected the devices after our call and reported each was in working order.
"Make sure somebody checks the AED to ensure the battery is still in place," Chief Goldstein said. “If you don’t, when you go to use it, you’ll have an inoperable AED.”
Macander said he's grateful the JCC in Rockville regularly checks its AED, so it was ready for him when he needed it most.
"I thank God for looking after me,” he said. “I am truly thankful to God because I have a family -- wife, daughters, grandchildren -- I have a lot to live for."
Reported by Tisha Thompson, produced by Rick Yarborough and Ashley Brown, shot by Jeff Piper and Steve Jones, and edited by Jeff Piper.