Month-long investigation finds public defibrillators around the metro are in short supply

OKLAHOMA CITY - 67-year-old Robert Richter was driving when he became alarmingly woozy. Robert's heartbeat had plunged dangerously low.

EMSA paramedics scrambled to the scene to save his life.

"They did put the pads on me and that was scary. 'Oh boy. Here it comes. Gonna light me up here,'" Richter recalled.

CPR and defibrillators increase survivability to 90% in cardiac calls like this.

Two bills have been passed in Oklahoma. One bill "mandates that defibrillators be made available at high school athletic practices and competitions" but it is "contingent upon the availability of federal funding or donations from private organizations."

"That contingent upon funding clause is essentially blowing smoke and mirrors. It's a smoke screen really," said State Representative Mickey Dollens.

In 2002, the federal government approved $30 million in grant money to purchase and place Automated External Defibrillators or AED's in public places.

But where are they?

"If I am the one who witnesses cardiac arrest and I yell for someone to get the AED and call 911, how long is it going to take them to go find it and get it back to the victim?" EMSA Paramedic Heather Yazdamipour told NewsChannel 4.

We spent more than a month searching the metro for AED's at places like malls, airports, casinos and convention centers.

"They reality is, they all need it. Everybody needs it. How do you put a price on life?" Yazdamipour said.

We did find several AED's labeled and ready to use inside the Cox Convention Center.

And we were able to locate three at Will Rogers World Airport but for "trained persons only."

At Penn Square Mall, one of the biggest malls in the state, we could only track two AED's, but according to the warning label, the public is forbidden from using them.

And at our state capitol, where lawmakers have approved two bills eliminating liability and making defibrillators more accessible, the lifesaving devices are in very short supply.

After searching every floor for more than an hour, we could only find one and it was tucked away behind a locked door.

Medical experts say that could be the difference between life and death.

"Why are they not everywhere? It's because of funding, contingent on funding and that's a disservice when you're putting human lives in jeopardy," Rep. Dollens told us.

19.3% of all ambulance calls in the metro are cardiac related.

It's been proven time and again that defibrillators dramatically increase a patient's chance of survival. According to Yazdamipour, "Every minute after that we wait, survivability drops 7-10%."

They're thousands of dollars each and cost seems to trump ease, convenience and lives.

"That's the message they are sending by not funding the availability of AED's," said Rep. Dollens.

We also checked with several metro school districts. Edmond schools have at least one in every building in the district.

We also found them in Moore Public Schools and officials told us nurses have access to defibrillators in Oklahoma City Public Schools, too.

Bottom line, experts say it's always a good idea to look for the large red AED when you're in a public place, especially if a member of your family has a history of heart problems.