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Police officer's personal health scare pushes him to encourage departments to carry AEDs

Posted at 9:08 PM, Jun 21, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-26 13:39:24-04

PHOENIX — He is a police officer on a mission to save lives, both on and off the job.

Brandon Griffith went into cardiac arrest at the age of 26. The experience has given him a new purpose to live for.

"I want to get AED's on every single patrol vehicle in the state of Arizona," said Griffith.

AED stands for automated external defibrillator. An AED automatically diagnoses life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) and is able to treat them by applying electricity which stops the arrhythmia, allowing the heart to re-establish an effective rhythm.

Griffith says cardiac arrest can happen to anyone, regardless of how fit you are or your age. In fact, he had just passed the police SWAT team test and considered himself to be in the best shape of his life, when he suffered a sudden cardiac arrest.

"It hit me like a freight train. My wife was in the room, she turned around and sees my face, it is the darkest purple she's ever seen. I am in lockjaw, doing what is called whisping. It's not normal breathing.. basically my body is convulsing," said Griffith.

He said he then collapsed, taking out every tier of a book shelf behind him. His wife started CPR on him, but due to her small stature was unable to get the depth she needed so she put him in the Trendelenburg position, which is feet raised up against the couch, to get better oxygenation. When she called 911, the closest fire department was out on another call, so a local police officer was the first person to arrive.

The officer was not armed with an AED and attempted CPR, that saved Griffith's life.

"With cardiac arrest every second counts," said Griffith.

Had it been another minute or two, Griffith said he knew he may not be sitting here today to tell his story.

"I was dead for 16 minutes. It was a death experience, not near death. I was dead. I was gone," said Griffith.

Now at the age of 31, Griffith said he was not going to let this second chance at life go to waste.

"I'm trying to earn my second chance at life. I'm trying to save as many people as possible," he added.

Since the incident, Griffith has founded a company called the Griffith Blue Heart Foundation, and re-dedicated his life to raising awareness about cardiac arrest.

The goal of the organization is to help other law enforcement agencies get access to AEDs, with the goal of putting one unit in every patrol car in Arizona. Griffith gives talks, helps with training and helps advise departments on how they can get the money to purchase these life saving devices.

So for his organization has raised $70,000 in grants to help two police departments. Sedona and Goodyear equip all patrol cars with AEDs, said Griffith. He is now working with six other departments, but declined to name them.

"There are really only a handful of departments in Arizona that have AEDs in all of their patrol cars," said Griffith.

He said those included Paradise Valley, Buckeye, Wickenburg, and all of the major university police departments.

ABC15 checked in with law enforcement agencies and learned that Pinal county does outfit deputies with AEDs in some of their patrol cars. Glendale police said they did not have AEDs but all of the officers received training on how to use them.

Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe officials said they do not have AEDs in patrol cars.

Griffith said the biggest challenge for many departments was funding. City and county governments often balked at the expense saying the fire departments were already equipped with these devices. Griffith said many people did not realize that police are often the first people who arrive at many of these medical calls.

"With so few departments in Arizona that have AEDs in their patrol vehicles I started looking at it and going, what is going on here? A thousand people are dying a day from cardiac arrest across the country. In Arizona we are losing 7,600 Arizonans per year," said Griffith.

He pointed out that the number of people who died after suffering cardiac arrest was a lot more than those who overdosed on opioids. Many officers in Arizona now carry the life saving drug Narcan to reverse an overdose, so Griffith questioned, why not defibrillators?

"I hope our elected officials realize it is absolutely vital that you approve this. You are losing people in your community everyday. We're losing a thousand Americans a day. You need to fund AEDs for your officers when they ask for it. This is life saving equipment," he added.

Griffith himself has used his AED device out in the field to save lives while working as a police officer. A Buckeye police spokeswoman says they too have seen many success stories in their community, with officers using AEDs to save the lives of community members in distress, after suffering a cardiac arrest.

"This is what being a public servant is about. Being an officer, an EMT when you get to save that life and give somebody else a second chance, there's nothing that feels better," said Griffith.

To get more information on how to get a defibrillator or to contact Griffith CLICK HERE.

To find out more about cardiac arrest signs and symptoms CLICK HERE.