Since 1969, America has designated February as “Heart Month” — a distinction that’s personal for me. Eleven years ago, shortly after I was sworn in to Congress, I was taken to the hospital after fainting during a workout. The good doctors at The George Washington University Hospital diagnosed me with bradycardia (a slow heartbeat) and outfitted me with a dual-chamber pacemaker. I flew home the next day and have been healthy ever since. Others are not as lucky.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans. That has been unchanged since the CDC was founded on July 1, 1946. I never had a living grandfather as they both died of massive heart attacks before I was born. Each year in the United States — still — approximately 647,000 people die from heart disease. That is a staggering number that equates to one in every four deaths. The National Institutes of Health says in my home state of Texas, coronary heart disease affects 1.4 million people. A bill that I introduced in the House would help chip away at that number and keep hearts beating.
After a constituent was saved thanks to quick access to an automatic external defibrillator (AED) during a sudden cardiac event — a medical emergency where the heart stops beating — we learned that due to a complex patchwork of state laws, there are many places where AEDs would save a life, but thanks to liability concerns, are not available. I introduced the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act to streamline federal regulations regarding liability and increase the use of AEDs.
Greater use of AEDs is proven to save lives. According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, roughly 356,000 people a year experience sudden cardiac arrest, resulting in the death of nine in 10 victims. When AEDs are used in sudden cardiac arrest events, the survival rate increases substantially: from an average of 10 percent to 50 percent.
Statistics compiled by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration show that each year approximately 400 workplace deaths occur from cardiac arrest. That number would go down if AEDs were more widely available.
At present, the patchwork of state-based laws providing exemptions for the good-faith use of AEDs is incomplete, inconsistent and inadequate. Intense mandates involving training requirements, maintenance, device settings and data collection further discourage AED adoption.
Passage of the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act would change all of that. It would remove the threat of predatory lawsuits targeting “Good Samaritans” by creating a nationally uniform baseline for civil liability for entities making use of AEDs, thereby increasing the presence of AEDs and making them more accessible in the event of an emergency.
I introduced the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act with my colleague Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA). It has strong, bipartisan support and deserves to come up for a full vote in the House of Representatives. According to the National Safety Council, greater access to AEDs could save 40,000 lives each year. That’s 40,000 husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, or loved ones. AEDs are safe, and they save lives. By removing burdensome red tape and protecting “Good Samaritans” with passage of the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act, we can ensure that hearts keep beating — during American Heart Month and every month.