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Sound Health is a recurring series that airs twice each month on WGLT's Sound Ideas program.Support for Sound Health comes from Carle Health, bringing care, coverage, support, healthcare research and education to central Illinois and beyond.

Bloomington Fire Department paramedics bring the ER to you with portable ultrasound

Man holding tablet during heart scan
Eric Stock
Bloomington EMS supervisor Nick Shaver, left, demonstrates how to conduct an ultrasound scan on EMS supervisor Derrick Riordan.

Bloomington Fire Department paramedics have a saying when it comes to cardiac arrest calls: "Time is muscle." The longer it takes to treat someone having a heart attack, the more likely the heart muscle will be damaged, and the less likely the patient will recover.

The department has a new tool for patients having a heart attack. Paramedics can monitor your heart and lungs on scene and bypass the hospital emergency room.

In this edition of Sound Health, Bloomington Fire Department EMS supervisors Derrick Riordan and Nick Shaver demonstrate how they use the department's new portable ultrasound machine. Riordan said the ultrasound device can help paramedics who have started to administer CPR better determine treatment more quickly, such as using a defibrillator or medications.

He explained the device uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of the heart. The transducer, about the size of an electric razor, plugs into a tablet to project the real-time images.

“The (ultrasound machines) in the hospital, they have a little bit more sophistication than ours, but this one has been shrunk down to where we can use it in the field and be practical with it,” Riordan said.

He said the device uses artificial intelligence to label parts of the heart to direct the user where to get the best scan.

Shaver noted BFD paramedics are still getting adjusted to the new technology, and they hope to buy more portable ultrasound machines in the future and expand their use for pregnancy and abdomen scans.

“If it helps one patient, then it’s worth it,” Shaver said. “The fact that these machines are getting smaller and more affordable makes it all the better for us.”

Shaver said the department has one ultrasound device that can be transported to any cardiac arrest call in the city.

The fire department reports its resuscitation rate from a heart attack is 38%. That’s better than three times the national average, according to the latest data from the American Heart Association.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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