Lessons Learned from the Gaming Industry

What can the gaming industry teach churches? A lot in the area of how to survive sudden cardiac arrest outside of the hospital. In 2000 a landmark study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (from here) that showed an amazing increase in the survival rates for casino patrons who experienced sudden cardiac arrest in the casino. The reason? Casino security staff were trained in how to use automatic external defibrillators (AED) and responded quickly when a cardiac arrest occurred. The result was a dramatic increase in the survival rates from this usually fatal event.

Sudden cardiac arrest is caused by a lethal heart rhythm known as ventricular fibrillation. It causes the heart to stop pumping blood and the brain is without oxygen. If you’ve ever taken a CPR class you probably remember that the brain can’t live without oxygen for very long. Brain cells begin to die within 4-6 minutes of oxygen deprivation.

The overall survival rate for out of hospital cardiac arrest is a dismal 5%. Even with defibrillation provided outside of the hospital, the survival rate drops 10% per minute if no bystander CPR is provided. If bystander CPR is provided, the drop is slower, about 3-4% per minute.

Early defibrillation, before the arrival of EMS, changes the survival rate completely. In the “Casino Study,” the survival rates jumped to an astonishing 53% with early defibrillation administered by casino security guards who were trained in the use of AEDs. This was accompanied with bystander CPR and prompt calls to 911 for EMS response. While survival rates differ in each community, similar success rates have been documented across the nation that organizations such as the American Heart Association and American Red Cross now incorporate AED training in their basic CPR classes taught to non-medical audiences.

AEDs can now be found in airports, hotels, golf courses, and even churches. A study conducted by Italian researchers found that a church might be the ideal place for a defibrillator, since the typical demographic of church-goers, namely an older population attending services in the early morning hours (when sudden cardiac death normally occurs) matches the typical demographic of pre-hospital cardiac arrest. (We’ll save the discussion of how to change the “typical demographic” of church-goers for another site and time!)

How the AED works and what type of training is required.

AEDs are simple to use. You simply apply electrodes to the patient and turn on the AED. The AED analyzes the rhythm and advises whether a shock is needed. The machine then delivers shock(s) according to established protocols and guides you with either voice prompts and/or text messages as to what to do next. For an AED to work however, there must be bystander CPR and a prompt call to your local EMS to respond.

AED training, as discussed above, is incorporated into CPR training in classes taught by the American Heart Association or American Red Cross. Your local EMS, fire department, or hospital’s education department will have qualified instructors who can teach your congregation CPR and AED use. The class can be completed in a few hours at a very reasonable cost. Many parishes incorporate CPR training into their health ministry programs, as many parishioners need CPR certification for their jobs or volunteer activities.

How to start an AED program at your church.

There’s more to starting an AED program than buying a defibrillator. Once a team of interested individuals is identified, issues such as defibrillator selection, rescuer training, where to put the defibrillator, and how to fund its purchase to be decided. The cost of AEDs has been dropping over the past few years. Many units are available for around $1,000.00 and there are several out there for less. Many AED vendors have discounts for churches. A great resource for implementing an AED program is the American Heart Association’s AED implementation guide, although aimed at industrial or commercial settings, is available here. Your local EMS agency is another excellent resource. The members of the St. Luke’s Network can also point you in the right direction, email us at

A well-designed AED program can be life saving and encourage other organizations in your community to begin AED programs as well. Let us know if you parish starts one and your experiences in getting the program up and running.