by Frank Morris

Paula Harper Bethea’s commitment to combating heart disease began on a heart-wrenching New Year’s Day in 1973 when she was 17.

   "My Daddy died of a massive coronary hugging me," she told the Hilton Head Island Town Council this week.

   That experience was more than enough to move the long-time island resident to make the health-care issue a personal cause.

   Toward that end, Ms. Bethea said she was happy to announce the latest addition to the Hilton Head Fire & Rescue Division’s program to save lives by putting automatic external defibrillator units within a moment’s reach of the developments’ security officers and other organizations’ personnel across the island.

   With a $15,000 grant from the Johnston Heart and Stroke Caring Fund, the Hilton Head Island Foundation has provided four of the lifesaving devices to the Fire & Rescue Division for use by three local nonprofit agencies. The recipients are the Island Recreation Center, the SHARE Senior Activities Center and the Boys & Girls Club of Hilton Head.

   The community foundation’s Heart and Stroke Advisory Committee, which Ms. Bethea chairs, recommended the donation.

   The division trains and certifies the staffs of participating organizations to use the units, increasing odds of victim survivals before town emergency medical technicians respond to calls for help.

   Operating the battery-powered units involves applying paddles to heart attack victims’ torsos and sending electric shocks through them to restore heartbeats. The training program also includes teaching cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

   Chances of survival from cardiac arrest decrease 6 percent for every minute of delay in administering CPR, early defibrillation and IV drug therapy, town Fire Chief Tom Fieldstead said. An exhaustive study in the Seattle, Wash., area proved that ready availability and use of automatic external defibrillators saves lives, he said.

   The island program was instituted with Hilton Head Plantation’s security department in July, when officers began carrying the units in patrol vehicles.