Auto-CPR machine added to rescue helicopter arsenal

A small machine could make a big difference at a critical time in a patient’s life.

It’s not common to spend the cost of a new car on a small piece of gear it is hoped rarely gets used, but that’s what Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust has done with its purchase of a new chest compression machine.

The new Lund University Cardiopulmonary Assist System (LUCAS) device arrived on base to much interest from the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter team which, it must be said, includes a number of “gearheads”.

“But this is a piece of gear we hope not to have to get out too often,” says critical care flight paramedic/base manager Richard Curtis.

“Our aim is to stabilise patients before we get on the move to raise the possibility of the best possible outcome.

“If push does come to shove, though, it can provide regular, uninterrupted chest compressions within a limited space, such as our helicopter.”

Funded by a $30,000 grant from Grassroots Trust, the LUCAS device has a back-plate that goes under the patient to stabilise them and, on top, a battery-operated system to provide consistent chest compressions.

It was devised in the 1990s by Norwegian paramedic Willy Vistung after he watched his colleagues struggle to perform manual cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on a patient being carried on a stretcher. In 2016 the most recent version — the one now carried by the Eastland Rescue Helicopter – became commercially available.

“We’d always had a defibrillator and with the arrival of an updated version we gifted the older one to the medical centre in Te Araroa, as it is our view that as we are community funded we should give back when we can,” says EHRT chair Patrick Willock.

“But as the service has become more professional there is increasing demand for more advanced equipment, and that’s where the new LUCAS device comes in.”

The difference between the use of a defib and applying chest compressions is a critical one, Richard Curtis says.

“The defib is used to shock the heart and hopefully restart the rhythm, so you just use it and put it aside.

“If help is still needed to keep the blood flowing, though, chest compressions can be required for a long period of time and that can cause extreme fatigue for the paramedic.”

If the team does need to use the LUCAS, it will also free the paramedic up do do the many other lifesaving tasks that may be required, or just belt themselves in for flight safety, he says.

“All our crewmen are trained in CPR and can help, but they may also be required to do something like look after a patient’s airway so another option is always useful,” says Richard Curti.

“It might not be the option you choose if you are in a stable, land-based environment. But if you’re on the move – in the air or on land – it ensures consistent chest compressions at a time when the patient can ill-afford any interruptions.”

CAPTION: The Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter critical care flight paramedic/base manager, Richard Curtis, demonstrates the new Lund University Cardiopulmonary Assist System (LUCAS) device, purchased for the service by the Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust.