American Airlines automatic
external defibrillators have saved the lives of 50 people in the seven
years since American began installing AEDs on its fleet of aircraft.
Save No. 50 came Tuesday night at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport
when a flight attendant at a boarding gate used the AED to save the life
of a 67-year-old Virginia man deplaning a flight from Reno, Nevada. The
man collapsed outside the gate boarding door. A doctor began CPR and the
flight attendant brought the AED from the aircraft and applied the pads to
the man’s chest. In a few seconds, the device voice-prompted the flight
attendant to administer a shock, accomplished by pushing a button. She
delivered three shocks before the victim was revived.
4Four days earlier, a 58-year-old passenger, an American Airlines employee,
collapsed in his seat during the boarding process for a flight from
Dallas/Fort Worth to Miami. He had no pulse, was unconscious and not
breathing. Flight attendants got him to the floor, retrieved the AED and
administered one shock.
In November 1996, American became the first U.S. carrier to announce that
it would equip its fleet of aircraft with AEDs. It chose the Phillips
HeartStart defibrillator from Phillips Electronics, which has shipped more
than 150,000 units overall and is the market leader in the aviation
The program was turned on May 1, 1997 and on Feb. 18, 1998, Robert Giggey
of Mebane, North Carolina, became the first AA passenger to be saved. He
collapsed on board an aircraft after rushing to catch a connecting flight
at D/FW airport. He and his wife, Carmen, became champions of getting
defibrillators installed in public places. On April 12, 2004, The FAA
required AEDs to be on all commercial passenger aircraft of a certain size.
To date, American has had 89 AED events where a shock was delivered.
Thirty-nine of those resulted in death, giving American a 56 percent
survival rate, when the national average is much lower—around 10
“One reason for our success is that the defibrillator is just yards away
from the passenger and American’s flight attendants are trained to use
it,” said Linda A. Campbell, a registered nurse in American’s corporate
medical department. She was instrumental in getting American’s program
underway by training, at that time, 27,000 flight attendants.
Campbell always speaks, usually within hours, with the families of those
“They are so grateful, because in most cases, there was never a clue that
their loved one had a medical problem, much less almost dying from it,”
Campbell said. Many of the passengers end up having stints placed in their
arteries or pacemakers installed, or undergoing bypass surgery. She said
in three cases the doctors could find nothing wrong with the patient until
they read the electrocardiogram printout the AED provides.
Tuesday’s 50th save was especially gratifying to Campbell. She retired
from the airline on Wednesday.