How to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) on someone in cardiac arrest

It’s been six days since Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field in front of millions. Many feared the worst. But just two days after suffering a cardiac arrest, he woke up and has since made remarkable progress, breathing on his own and able to talk with family and teammates.

How was that possible?

It was largely because of a small, portable device called an automated external defibrillator, or AED.

When Hamlin was hit in the chest, he developed an irregular heartbeat, likely ventricular fibrillation, and his heart stopped pumping blood effectively. In ventricular fibrillation, the likelihood of survival drops about seven to ten percent for every minute of delay restoring an effective heartbeat. But Hamlin quickly received CPR followed by defibrillation with an AED, and his pulse returned.

AEDs are available in many public areas: schools, stores, airports. But a lot of people are afraid to use them.

Let me show you how easy it is with a demo at the simulation center at NYU Langone Health, where I’m a professor of medicine.

Let’s assume 911 has already been called, and CPR is being given to someone in cardiac arrest. Once the AED arrives, you just hit the on/off button and the machine literally tells you what to do:


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Remove clothing from the person’s chest;

Place pads exactly as indicated on the chest;


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Press the pads firmly to the bare skin;


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Stay clear of the patient;

The AED analyzes the heart rhythm;

Press the orange button – shock delivered.


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Don’t worry. It’s programmed to read a person’s heartbeat and only shock them if they really need it.

If you can, take a course on CPR and AED use, but even someone with no training is often able to use this device successfully.


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Think about Damar Hamlin. You just may give somebody else a second chance.

Story produced by Michelle Kessel. Editor: Emanuele Secci. 

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