‘Every minute makes a difference’: Pilot program tests defibrillators in police cars

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There’s a countywide push to save more Big Islanders who experience cardiac arrest.


There’s a countywide push to save more Big Islanders who experience cardiac arrest.

Cardiac arrest happens when there’s an electrical malfunction — the heart short-circuits and stops beating.

For every minute without CPR compressions from a bystander or defibrillator shocks, survival decreases by 10 percent, said Lisa Rantz, executive director of the Hilo Medical Center Foundation.

Hawaii County collaborators are working on several fronts — making sure at least half of all police patrol vehicles per shift carry an automated external defibrillator, or AED, which can shock a heart back into normal rhythm — and teaching high school students hands-only CPR.

Ryler Kubojiri of Hilo was 17 when he went into cardiac arrest at Wainaku Gym in spring 2015. Fortunately, two students who recently learned hands-only CPR in classes taught by the Hawaii Fire Department started chest compressions, pumping Kubojiri’s blood for him for 13 minutes until an ambulance arrived.

“We were so blessed they were there for him at that time,” said Kubojiri’s mother, Carol. “What the Fire Department is doing, I give them credit for it — and that’s really something.”

Carol Kubojiri said Ryler suffered brain damage, but if an AED was available at the gym it’s possible his injury would be less severe. She’s pleased police officers are starting to carry the devices.

Kubojiri was placed in an induced coma for two days. But he didn’t awaken, as expected, for eight more. When he awoke, he was unable to speak, walk or partake in normal activities.

Physical, occupational and speech therapy have helped him regain independence. But he takes a single college course at a time toward a carpentry degree focused on tiny houses — because each task takes him extra effort.

An implant will automatically shock his heart if cardiac arrest happens again.

Now, Hawaii County police officers have joined the effort to save people like Kubojiri by carrying AEDs.

Police Capt. Aimee Wana said officers volunteered for the AED program. The department wants to have AEDs aboard cruisers on all shifts in Hilo, Puna and Kailua-Kona districts.

That way, officers will have AEDs available during normal shifts and on personal time, whether “at their children’s ball game or at a school event.”

The county has tripled its cardiac arrest save rate and wants to continue increasing it.

AEDs have been carried in police vehicles since October, and guiding data should be available within a year.

Firefighters keep data from the Hawaii County program, said Capt. Chris Honda of the Fire Department. Seattle uses data to constantly make changes that improve its save rate of 62 percent. Hawaii County fire officials want to do the same.

AEDs have the greatest potential to save lives between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., when many cardiac arrests occur, Honda said. That’s also a time when people tend to be at home and in bed. For many, that means a remote location far removed from a hospital or an ambulance.

“In those kind of cases, every minute makes a difference,” Honda said.

Cardiac arrest abatement efforts began about three years ago when Hawaii County firefighters attended a conference in Seattle called Resuscitation Academy.

A $50,000 donation helped the county buy 30 AEDs and distribute them in officers’ squads.

“My goal is to have every officer and chief officer to carry AEDs in their vehicles,” Honda said. Already, all fire engines have AEDs, with all Fire Department personnel trained at the EMT level or higher.

In 2016, Honda said, Hawaii County achieved a 13 percent cardiac arrest save rate, more than triple its rate three years ago. The county is striving toward Seattle’s rate, although rural living will make that tough.

“Hats off to the Police Department for being willing to step up and take on this project,” Honda said. “… Officers, they really care about the community.”

A Resuscitation Academy similar to Seattle’s is coming May 8-10 to Hilo for dispatchers, training officers, EMS directors, field staff and hospital personnel.

The Hawaii Division of the American Heart Association also plans to ask the state Department of Education to require all students to finish hands-only CPR training before graduation to help decrease cardiac arrest deaths.


“It’s anticipated that that will result in a doubling or tripling of survival,” said Don Weisman, the division’s government-relations director.

Email Jeff Hansel at

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