Study: Many golf courses unprepared for cardiac emergencies

ROYAL OAK, Mich. - Is your favorite golf course ready to save your life? A new study finds the response to cardiac emergencies at many Michigan golf courses isn't up to par.

"As we learn more about where people collapse and have cardiac arrest, it's important that we're prepared for that," said Dr. Robert Swor, director of emergency medicine research at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.

Swor and his team studied 40 cardiac arrests that occurred at 39 Michigan golf courses from 2010 to 2012. The results were not reassuring. 

"Very few of them had defibrillators, and even fewer actually used the defibrillators if they were there," said Swor.

An automated external defibrillator, or AED, is a portable device that delivers an electric shock through the chest to stop an irregular heart rhythm, which can be fatal. The device talks to the user, providing step-by-step instructions, and automatically diagnoses the heart rhythm to determine if a shock is needed. 


AEDs are becoming more widely available at health clubs, schools, airports and many other places. But golf courses don't seem to be joining that club. Swor said having an AED on site is critical.  

"Every minute you wait when you're in cardiac arrest, you decrease your chances of survival by 10 percent," he said.

Remember, most golf courses are quite large. Think about how long it would realistically take an ambulance to reach you on the course. 

"The average time in our study was about nine minutes. Average. So, half the time, somebody was waiting longer than nine minutes," said Swor. "If time is critical, it's not the right place to have a cardiac arrest."

Some Michigan courses have made the investment.

"I think that an AED is something that you need to have on site in case there is a medical emergency and you need to use it," said Paul Simpson, PGA golf professional and manager of Lyon Oaks Golf Course and Glen Oaks Golf Course.

At the Lyon Oaks course in Wixom, they've had an AED for several years.

"We have it at all five of our golf courses, and we have it at a number of other Oakland County Parks facilities," said Simpson.

There are also stickers in every golf cart showing golfers exactly what steps to take in an emergency.

"Most of our staff is trained how to use the AED," said Simpson.  "Our golf course sits on 230 acres.  It just helps to get somebody out there and have 'em starting performing the procedures immediately because I know the time-frame is pretty short before someone can be a fatality."

Golfer Mike Head of Warren likes of the idea of having an AED nearby.

"You can't be too safe.  I had a heart attack eight years ago.  It was mild, but if it was anything more than what it was and I was on a golf course, it would have been a lot safer (having an AED)," said Head.

Mark Wilkie actually comes prepared for an emergency on the course.

"I do carry in my bag the little low-dose aspirin," said Wilkie.

But like many golfers we talked to, he hadn't noticed the stickers promoting the AED.

"You don't think about the heart attack," said Wilkie.  "If you're worried about the heart attack, you're not out here drinking and smoking cigars."

With AEDs starting at around $1,500, many golfers wondered, why not have them?

"They're a lifesaver, basically," said golfer Nancy Abele from Ferndale. 

There was one encouraging note in the Beaumont study. Even though AED use was rare, about 70 percent of the time, golfers who needed CPR did receive it, usually from another golfer.  Something to think about when you're choosing your next foursome.

So what should golfers do? Before you hit the links, ask the course, "Do you have an AED?  Do you know how to use it?" 

Staff should have regular training in how to use the AED and a plan to get it to you in an emergency. The study also recommended golf courses have good access points for emergency vehicles and stickers on golf carts with emergency response instructions. Steps that could make all the difference in an emergency.

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