Dr. Paul Friedman
Division of Cardiovascular Disease
Mayo Clinic
Rochester, Minnesota

On the subject of death and dying, who better to have a conversation with about the resuscitation capabilities of a defibrillator than a heart doctor who specializes in applied cardiac electrophysiology (heart rhythm disorders) with a special interest in atrial fibrillation and in nonpharmacologic arrhythmia therapy. We sat down with Dr. Paul Friedman as he explained the history of the defibrillator and just how much it has evolved from not only being used in hospitals but also outside the confines of a medical setting.

The earliest defibrillation of the heart pre-1950 involved the chest cavity being open during surgery. An alternating (AC) voltage from 300 or more was used to shock the heart. That changed at the end of the 1950’s and direct current was used.

Doctors now have the ability to deliver voltage of 1000 volts to recharge the heart to pump blood back to the organs.  We also have portable and implantable devices that help save lives by automatically restoring a normal heart beat. As Dr. Friedman explained, this new medical technology enables a person who has collapsed from cardiac arrest to be jolted back to life in seconds.

Today you can find defibrillators in airports, malls, restaurants and, in Rochester, MN, in police cars. Thanks to efforts by Dr. Roger White of the Mayo Clinic, police cars have defibrillators in them so that they can rapidly respond to emergency events. That has increased the number of individuals who have their hearts stop somewhere outside of the hospital surviving the incident to more than 50%, compared to less than 10% in many major American cities. whereas in other major cities that number is down around 10%. (See the story here http://www.nbcnews.com/video/nightly-news/53346645#53346645)

Our discussion with Dr. Friedman was not just about defibrillators. He also shared insights on cases of individuals who die in a freezing cold environment who are then resuscitated and recover completely.

As with all of our interviews with doctors of this level we like to ask the question about how they view death for themselves, as well as where do they think we go. We were not disappointed with Dr. Friedman's personal thoughts on this subject.

We want to thank Dr. Paul Friedman and we are very excited to have him as a part of this series on dying.