by Janelle Carter

   WASHINGTON (AP) – Defibrillators, which often mean the difference between life and death for cardiac arrest victims, may soon be in federal buildings under a bill that passed a House panel Tuesday.

   The bill would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to develop guidelines for placement of automated external defibrillators, which can analyze heart rhythms to determine if a shock is necessary and, when necessary, deliver a lifesaving shock to the heart. The bill, introduced by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., also would relieve “Good Samaritans” who use the device from liability.

   “This simple common sense measure has the potential to save countless lives,” said Rep. Mike Bilirakis, R-Fla., chairman of the House Commerce Committee’s health and environment panel that approved the bill on a voice vote.

   Approximately 250,000 Americans suffer from sudden cardiac arrest each year, according to the American Heart Association. Of that number, an average of 5 percent survive.

   The chances of survival from sudden cardiac arrest decrease by approximately 10 percent per minute until defibrillation. Experts estimate that 20,000 to 100,000 lives could be saved annually with greater access to automated external defibrillators, which are small laptop sized devices that cost about $3,000.

   The Las Vegas area has seen survival rates rise to 57 percent since instituting a defibrillator program in 1997 with security officers as operators of the devices, present in many casinos and other buildings.

   “These results are easily duplicated with the strategic placement of sufficient numbers of automated external defibrillators and the proper training of individuals responsible for their use,” said Richard Hardman, director of emergency medical services in Clark County, Nev.

   One cardiac survivor, New York attorney Robert Adams, said an automated external defibrillator arrived at Grand Central Station a day before he collapsed two years ago, saving his life.

   “For me, timing was everything,” Adams said. “Congress can and should take a leadership role by spreading the message that we can fight cardiac arrest by putting the tools to save lives in the hands of those most likely to respond, the lay public."