SAVE STORY – Willow Creek Church

The importance of having AEDs in your place of worship

Places of worship are often a community hub. Members encompass a wide range of ages, professions, ethnicities, social classes, and health. Not that sudden cardiac arrest cares – it never discriminates on any of those factors. Which is why churches, temples, synagogues and other houses of worship should consider the importance of having AEDs available for their congregation.

One church which recognized this need was Willow Creek in South Barrington, IL. A large complex which includes an auditorium and many classrooms, Willow Creek’s main campus spans around 800,000 square feet and can see between 3,000 and 10,000 visitors at any time during weekend services. In 2010 their Medic volunteer team requested AEDs as they had experienced several instances where they had to wait for emergency services to arrive in order to fully treat sudden cardiac arrest victims.  

Scott Johnson, Campus Operations Manager, oversees their AED program. He says “We currently have nine AEDs throughout the building. We spaced them geographically throughout the lobby and open areas so they are easily accessible if needed. We also have a portable AED that we keep in our Medic closet that can be taken with volunteers when on call. We determined the locations based on how long it would take to retrieve one when needed and what key areas the most people would be during any specific time.” Maintaining that many AEDs can be a challenge, and they did have a few stumbling blocks at first remembering to change the electrode pads and batteries when they expired, but Scott claims it only takes about two to three hours per quarter to do routine checks and maintenance.

Willow Creek also provides periodic training for key personnel, especially those who are most likely to be at the church on the weekends. Their team of medics is vital at such a large venue. On November 5th, 2016, one of those medics, Jim Graf, was on call. In the middle of the service, people in the upper balconies began shouting for a doctor.  

“I grabbed my medical jump bag and the AED and ran upstairs,” says Jim. “I came across a very chaotic scene of people trying to help and not knowing what to do. Bystanders were attempting CPR but the patient was in a very tight spot and it was difficult to assess him with all the people in the way.” The only thing Jim knew for sure was the patient was unconscious and had “snoring respirations” (most likely agonal breathing).

A female standing over the patient identified herself as a nurse and asked for the AED. The nurse put the AED on and moved out of the way. “Many people were shouting instructions on what to do and I had to tell them all to be quiet as I turned on the AED. The service had obviously stopped and now all 5000 plus people in the auditorium were praying for this man. The AED said a shock was advised. I cleared the patient and shocked him. I then began CPR.” Another medic volunteer began giving breaths with a BVM (bag/valve/mask) and oxygen.

Jim says the outcome was good. “After about a minute and a half of CPR, it seemed that the patient was responding. I could hear almost like a grunt with every compression coming from him. The BVM was removed and you could tell that he was breathing on his own. I checked his pulse and he had a heart rate of 84.” The fire department shift commander had arrived and began talking to the patient who was able to open his eyes and answer questions. The paramedics and firefighters arrived soon after and took over patient care. He remained conscious and alert while he was being taken to the ambulance.”
The outcome of this story is a good one and makes a strong case for placing AEDs in church settings. Asked if he had any advice for other churches considering starting an AED program, Scott Johnson offered three pieces of advice, “Educate your members on AED locations and make sure they are easily seen and accessible. Train key employees on device maintenance and do regular checks to make sure the units are functioning once a month. Have an extra unit on hand to swap out if needed.”

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