Search by Category
Search by Manufacturer
Join our mailing list!
Thanks! You've been successfully signed up for the BTU newsletter!
Death of Chicago train passenger stirs AED debate
By Richard Wronski and John Keilman
CHICAGO — Metra Train 610 had just left the Barrington station early Thursday when passengers were jolted by an announcement: Immediate assistance was needed for a passenger.
At least two nurses rushed to assist crew members trying to help a 63-year-old Barrington Hills man with heart attack symptoms. They attempted CPR.
Emergency responders who met the train at the Palatine station also tried to revive the man, who died.
The tragedy quickly raised concerns among some passengers and medical authorities, who questioned why Metra trains, unlike passenger airplanes, don't have defibrillators. Neither do CTA buses and trains.
The lack of the life-saving devices — automated external defibrillators, or AEDs — came as a surprise to some of the passengers who witnessed what happened.
"Metra professes that their passengers' safety and security are their No. 1 priority — not so much if AEDs are not available on their trains," said Jennifer Siegel of Woodstock, who was riding in the next car.
"I am heartbroken for this poor man's family who sent him off to work this morning fully expecting him to come home tonight. His death could have been prevented."
But whether having an AED aboard the Union Pacific Northwest Line train would have saved the passenger's life is unclear, officials said. It was unknown late Thursday what the victim's condition was by the time Palatine responders arrived, or whether their treatment could have saved his life.
Steven Glumm, a Palatine Fire Department division chief, said an AED might not have helped. "There is no guarantee an AED readily available will impact the outcome of a patient's condition," Glumm said.
Defibrillators deliver an electrical current to correct an irregular heartbeat and can revive victims of a heart attack. Because of their portability and relative lost cost, the devices are increasingly showing up in offices, schools and stores. The FAA has required them on airplanes since 2001.
Metra has been evaluating whether to place AEDs on trains but has made no decision, spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said.
The devices are available at Metra's five downtown rail stations, and some suburbs have placed them at outlying stations, she said.
"The first step was to place them in downtown terminals," Pardonnet said. "We will continue to assess the need for them onboard trains."
The CTA does not have AEDs at its rail stations or onboard any equipment, a spokeswoman said. "We have looked into it, but it's too cost prohibitive," spokeswoman Catherine Hosinski said.
Mark Peysakhovich, senior director of advocacy for the American Heart Association, said his organization has long been concerned about the lack of defibrillators on Metra trains.
"Metra's never been willing to put (the devices) on the trains, which is unfortunate," he said. "Clearly they need them."
He said state law exempts government agencies, building owners and others from liability when they make defibrillators available. It also shields people who use the devices in an emergency, even if they're not trained.
"This is not an issue of liability," he said. "If Metra wants to be true to its customers, it would put them in rather than make excuses about why they can't."
Mary Newman, president of the Pittsburgh-based Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, said defibrillators cost $1,200 to $2,500, though bulk purchases could drive down the cost. They're designed to be used by novices, she said.
"They will not shock anyone unless they need to be shocked," she said. "The device itself determines if the heart has stopped beating, and the device will tell you when to push the button."
The Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Co., which operates 13 commuter rail lines carrying 140,000 passengers a day, became the first major commuter rail line to install AEDs on all its trains earlier this year, said Richard Davey, general manager.
The Boston-area commuter line's program was launched after settlement of a lawsuit in the death of a passenger.
The agency bought nearly 100 AEDs for about $200,000 and spent about $100,000 to train crew members, Davey said.
Within weeks after they were installed, an off-duty paramedic used an AED to aid a stricken passenger on a commuter platform. The passenger survived.
"As far as I'm concerned the program has paid for itself by saving one life," Davey said.