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Montanans May Soon Get CPR From A Machine

Steve Jess

Credit Steve Jess
Mike Hense demonstrates the Lucas-2 cardio compression machine.

Your chances of surviving a heart attack in Montana just got better, thanks to something called Lucas.

Mike Hense of Physio-Controls is demonstrating his company’s chest compression system, called the Lucas-2. It looks like a large plastic brace that straps around a patient’s abdomen, with a plastic plunger that presses against the chest cavity. Its purpose is to keep a person’s blood circulating, even if they’re in cardiac arrest.

"As soon as we get that clicked in, I would say ready, compressor on, down to there, and then we’re going. So after that, the machine takes over, it goes continuous, and it never gets tired."

Not getting tired is important. We’ve all seen a doctor or first responder performing chest compression on a heart attack victim, but what we don’t see is how tiring it is to perform chest compressions on a person for more than a few minutes. Just ask Michael McLary, an EMT with Saint Peter’s Hospital in Helena:

“Your adrenaline’s going, and you kinda lose perception of how well you’re doing, but the numbers show you do get fatigued after about three or four minutes,” said McLary.

Once fatigue sets in, chest compression becomes less effective, and a patient’s chance of survival can drop. McClary says having a machine, rather than a person, doing the work of chest compression is a good idea.

“I’ve never used it personally on a code, but it does exactly what we need to do and it frees up more hands to do other things.”

Thanks to a $4 million grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust, Montanans who live more than three or four minutes away from the nearest hospital have a better chance of surviving a cardiac event. Most of that money will pay for more than two hundred Lucas chest compression units, so that every EMS program, and many hospitals in Montana, can have at least one.

Governor Steve Bullock called the gift a game-changer for Montana’s emergency responders.

“On average EMS workers in rural Montana face travel times returning back to the hospital as long as twenty minutes," Bullock said. "Studies show that two people that are highly trained and experienced in CPR can only provide it at those optimum levels consistently for about five or ten minutes before fatigue steps in.”

The Lucas chest compressors are just the largest part of a program the Helmsley trust calls its “Cardiac Ready Initiative.” It also includes training for emergency dispatchers around the state, so they can better assist bystanders in performing CPR on a heart attack victim before the ambulance arrives. Also, a new public education program will help people recognize the signs of a heart attack.

State public health director Richard Opper says he couldn’t think of a better way to start off a new year.

“There are going to be some Montanans who are going to get a second chance at life, because of the training and equipment hat this grant will provide.”

Cardio-vascular disease contributes to a quarter of the deaths in Montana each year. Distributing more than two of the hundred “Lucas” chest compression units to EMS services and hospitals around the state will take about eighteen months.

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