ATWATER -- The Atwater Ambulance Service is the first volunteer crew in the region to acquire a new set of hands that is able to perform the "perfect CPR" on a patient over and over without stopping, even during long treks from the far corners of the service area to hospitals in Willmar or Litchfield.
Uninterrupted CPR can mean the difference between life and death, which makes this new addition to the ambulance crew and community priceless.
But unlike the other members of the Atwater Ambulance service that volunteer their time, this set of hands -- a Zoll AutoPulse non-invasive cardiac support pump -- came with a $16,000 price tag.
On Saturday, a $50-a-person community event, with dinner, music, silent auction and display of photos of the recent fire in Atwater, is being held to raise the money to pay for the new equipment.
"We have a great community here. They've always stepped up to the plate," said Lee Mickle, a volunteer member of the Atwater Ambulance. The sold-out fundraising event will help pay for the pump but additional donations are needed.
The AutoPulse will take the place of manual CPR that involves emergency medical technicians pushing on a patient's chest to bring oxygen to the lungs and brain. It's the primary emergency treatment given to heart attack patients.
Chest compressions are supposed to be applied 100 times a minute, with a two-inch depth compression, to be most effective.
Imagine pushing hard on a person's chest with the heel of your hand for every beat of the disco dance song "Stayin' Alive," said Mickle. Imagine doing that for 30 to 45 minutes while standing in an ambulance that's racing down rough rural roads.
It's physically draining and nearly impossible to provide consistent compressions for that duration, said Veda Stockland, supervisor for the Atwater Ambulance Service.
And because the heel of the hand can slip while doing compressions, it's quite common for ribs to be cracked during manual CPR, she said.
The AutoPulse includes a board that fits under a patient's torso with a "life band" that automatically contracts to fit snugly over the patient's chest. It then squeezes the chest to bring oxygen to the lungs and brain. After 30 seconds of pumping, the machine beeps to signal the EMT to provide two breaths in mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
"It does the perfect CPR every time," said Mickle, adding that Atwater is the first ambulance service in the region to purchase an automatic cardiac pump. They're more common in small towns in the southeast part of the state.
The AutoPulse is perfect for a small community like Atwater that may not have enough available volunteer EMTs and back-up crews to do CPR and other life-saving techniques at the same time, Stockman said.
It's also valuable because once it's strapped on, the compressions begin and don't stop. Typically manual compressions stop while the patient is being carried down stairs, out of the house and into the ambulance. Stopping for even a minute or two can decrease the chance of survival.
The AutoPulse provides "optimum patient care," said Stockland, while stressing that citizen CPR is still necessary for people to learn and apply during sudden cardiac arrest until ambulance crews arrive.