Coming eventually to cities not necessarily near you: life-saving drones.

It’s a development not yet receiving much attention from many of the bigger news outlets in the U.S., but across the Atlantic a 23-year-old Belgian’s recently unveiled invention – a flying automated external defibrillator (AED) that can reach a patient nearly five miles away within one minute – is creating a buzz. As reported by news service Agence France-Presse (AFP) last week, engineering grad Alec Momont’s “ambulance” drone tracks emergency mobile calls and uses the GPS to navigate.

Momont, who thus far has shown the world only his prototype, reportedly plans to improve the flying ambulance’s steering and include additional emergency medical equipment (mentioned: an oxygen mask for people trapped in fires) before supplying the drone to emergency services. Services are already expressing interest, though, and the specialized drone could be in fairly wide use in Europe within five years.

Fortunately, most residents of Wallowa County don’t have to wait five years for such life-savingly quick access to an AED to become the local norm. That advancement has already happened for us. Through Wallowa County Project Heartbeat, a Rotary Club of Wallowa County effort launched six years ago by then-Rotary Club president Dick Burch, dozens of AEDs have been placed in public buildings and businesses throughout Wallowa County, making our beautiful valley one of the nation’s best-covered rural areas.

Burch began the very-long-term endeavor because he realized that ambulance crews couldn’t be expected in many cases to reach a person who has suffered sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) in time to offer that person much chance for survival.

The AEDs Burch deploys are programmed to guide users through voice prompts. He also has it on good authority that Oregon’s samaritan law and past court decisions offer reasonable protection to anyone who uses an AED in a non-reckless manner. There’s no escaping the compelling wisdom in getting people properly trained in CPR, though.

“Good quality CPR is really essential for the successful resuscitation of someone in cardiac arrest,” Burch says.

Adding an AED to the mix boosts effectiveness further still. Where statistical data suggest a person in cardiac arrest stands only a 3 to 5 percent chance of survival through CPR alone, survival jumps above 50 percent with the AED. The machine “makes a great deal of difference in the outcome,” Burch says.

The Rotary Club project, which placed AED units at breakneck speed in years one through five, had to weather a slowdown during its sixth year as the club battled the Internal Revenue Service over a loss of non-profit status for the Rotary Foundation of Wallowa County, the entity to which donations were normally directed. The IRS has since restored the Foundation’s non-profit standing – retroactively, in fact (Stop the presses: IRS admits it was wrong!) – and the flow of donations to Project Heartbeat and to Rotary’s other good causes can be expected to recover fully.

The pace of training, meanwhile, has never actually slowed as Burch continues to push this critical component. And there’s getting to be no credible reason anymore for anyone to reject the idea, considering the price remains at only $45 for an eight-hour class that includes CPR/AED and First Aid, and the American Heart Association now says attendees’ CPR certification is good for two years – not only one year as it was before.

So locals can either get fully behind Project Heartbeat and get the training, or they can sit back and wait for something different that’s not necessarily better. A flying ambulance maybe?

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