The Kenai River attracts scores of fishermen to battle gigantic fish at the reel, but among older fishermen the strain and excitement of fishing on the river may trigger a second and deadlier type of battle.
The number of fishermen that succumb to heart attacks on the Kenai River each year is unknown, but given the demographics of some of the fishermen who descend upon it each year, the river should be equipped to facilitate a cardiac emergency response, said Dave Lowery, a local sport fisherman.
“You have people fishing the river in their 90s,” he said.
In response, Lowery has played an instrumental role in securing four automatic external defibrillators for use on the river, life-saving devices used to treat cardiac arrest.
The Alaska Department of Natural Resources Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation plans to station the devices this spring in buildings in four locations: Pillars, Bings Landing, Morgans Landing and the Russian River ferry crossing.
“If they save one life, they’ve done their job,” Lowery said. “In today’s world caring for people is probably one of the most valuable things we do.”
Although Lowery has been credited with doing most of the leg work to acquire the life-saving devices, he said the idea was originally spawned three years ago by Jeff King, a member of the Kenai River Special Management Area advisory board.
Last winter, Lowery volunteered for the Arctic Winter Games, and when he learned the Arctic Winter Games Legacy Committee would be donating AEDs to the community after the Games finished, he jumped on the opportunity to acquire some for the Kenai River.
Lowery called the Division of Parks and urged them to petition the Legacy Committee to donate some of the AEDs for use on the Kenai River.
The Legacy Committee granted the request and has since donated four AEDs to the Division of Parks, which will install and maintain the devices.
“It was just a matter of him prompting me to write a letter,” said Bill Berkhahn, Kenai River district ranger with the Division of Parks
Proper AED use requires some basic training, but the devices are small and portable, making them convenient for use along the river, he said.
“This is something we’ve needed for a long time,” he said. “(Its) a great opportunity to have these made available.”
AEDs are applied to the outside of the body and, when used quickly and properly, can restore the normal beating of a heart that has gone into cardiac arrest. An AED uses electrodes to collect information about the heart’s rhythm, interprets that rhythm using a small computer and delivers a defibrillating shock to restore normal beating.
Central Emergency Services Assistant Chief Gordon Orth estimated CES responds to at least a couple of cardiac-related emergencies along the Kenai River each year.
Orth said the AEDs could be used to save lives if their locations are well known and someone trained to use one is available in the event of a cardiac emergency.
“In an emergency situation you don’t want to be reading directions,” he said.
Berkhahn said the rangers who patrol the river are trained to use AEDs, but that the AEDs will be made available to anyone who knows how to use one in the event of a cardiac emergency.
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