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Future success has heart rates rising at Hygea

JACKSON — Every day, hundreds of Americans die from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Unlike a heart attack, which has known causes, SCA still remains a mystery to the medical community, but there is a known cure — an automatic external defibrillator (AED).

AEDs are the devices that are attached to victims of SCA and used to shock the heart back into action.

Brookhaven native Frank Perkins, a 20-year paramedic and now chief operating officer of Hygea, LLC, a distributor of AEDs, said, “If a victim goes into ventricular fibrillation (SCA), the only hope they have is an AED. But for AEDs to be effective, seconds count.”

Hygea’s roots go back to a phone call made by chief executive officer James Coggins, a Jackson native. An insurance industry veteran, Coggins had been reading more and more about the proliferation of AEDs. He wondered if insurance underwriters would consider offering discounts in health insurance to companies and organizations that offered AEDs in-house. He found interest.

So, Coggins made a call to Hewlett Packard, now Agilent Technologies, a manufacturer and marketer of AEDs, to find out more about the devices.

“The conversation was ending, and almost as an aside I asked them if they had anyone marketing their AEDs in this area,” Coggins said. “They said no, and I told them I was interested.”

In July 1999, Hygea (named for the Greek god of medicine) opened its doors. In less than two years, the company has seen impressive success. Hygea-sold AEDs can be found in nine states, such as shopping centers and airports, including Jackson International. And it has landed the State of Mississippi. AEDs may now be found in all Mississippi Welcome Centers, the state capitol, State Department of Education, the Woolfolk Building and many other agencies and facilities.

Coggins and his staff are confident that AEDs are poised to become as every day as the company fire extinguisher and home smoke detector. Part of the reason for AEDs blossoming popularity is technological improvements. The Edison Company designed the first models decades ago for use on utility workers who suffered electrocution-induced SCA. They were rather primitive — the power source was the utility truck’s battery and jumper cables. AEDs also required extensive medical training.

Today, AEDs are much more user friendly. For example, Aligent’s Heartstream FR2 weighs less than five pounds. The AED offers an LCD display that gives visual prompts for correct procedures, an EKG read-out on the screen, audio prompts and contains a computer chip that can be removed and downloaded at a health care facility, offering a full history of the patient’s vital signs and other information.

Another innovation is the public-access AED. Hygea offers a wall-hung model with a glass door like those that encase many fire extinguishers. The door is left unlocked, but admits a piercing siren if opened. It is ideal for shopping malls and airports.

A plus for AED sales has also been the decrease in training required to operate the device.

“The American Heart Association and the American Red Cross have incorporated AED training in their life-saving courses,” Perkins said. “Courses now require three hours of CPR and an hour of AED training.”

Another factor in the rise of AEDs is changes in liability. “AEDs are now covered by the Good Samaritan Act,” Coggins said. “In the past, companies were worried about liability if an AED was used improperly, resulting in a possible lawsuit. Now, the potential liability exists if a company does not have an AED available.”

In addition to distributing AEDs, Hygea also offers consultation. Perkins said that is crucial, because many companies have not thought about all the potential hazards of SCA even if an AED is available.

“Some companies have areas that are secured and allow access to only a few people,” Perkins said. “What if a person falls out on one side of a locked door, and the AED is on the other? What’s the plan?”

Coggins said, “The potential for this company is unlimited. In Seattle, Chicago, Miami, AEDs are in every police car. They are a common device in other areas of the country, and they will be here, too.

“There was a recent case in Florida where a man died of sudden cardiac arrest at a fitness club. The club was sued for millions. Now you’ll see fitness centers all over the company looking to put AEDs in their businesses. Once one company in an industry gets AEDs, then the others will follow.

“We recently sold AEDs to a large shopping center chain out West. Less than a week after the AEDs were installed, we got a call — a person’s life was saved by an AED. Now, you want to talk about a measure of success?”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1016.

About Wally Northway

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