Alaska Digest

Posted: Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Shock could be a factor in cold water deaths

ANCHORAGE - That first shock of hitting frigid water may have doomed 44 of the 58 people who died in Alaska boating accidents between 2001 and 2003.

New research in the past decade has found that people often immediately gasp or hyperventilate upon immersion in cold water, causing them to inhale and drown immediately.

Those who survive the first minute often experience a surge in blood pressure or irregular heart rhythms. As more time passes and limbs chill, muscle strength in arms, fingers and legs collapses. Treading water or swimming becomes impossible.

"Our biggest concern is telling the public that wearing a life jacket is vital for surviving the first few minutes," said Sue Hargis, a former Coast Guard skipper and the agency's water safety coordinator for Alaska.

Defibrillators arriving in rural communities

ANCHORAGE - The state health department has received more than $500,000 to put almost 280 defibrillators in police departments, remote lodges, and even campgrounds across rural Alaska over the past two years.

Communities as remote as Edna Bay and Diomede have received the automated external defibrillators, a compact piece of medical gear that can restart a heartbeat and save a life before responders can arrive.

The money for the equipment comes from a federal aid program called the Rural Access to Emergency Devices Grant, said Matt Anderson, manager for the state's Emergency Medical Services program. The program has spent millions of dollars to place the devices in rural parts of the nation that aren't close to hospitals.

Even more populated areas, such as Juneau, have received the subsidized lifesavers.

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