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Funeral home to buy defibrillator
By Kristen Bradley / Daily News Staff
Tuesday, June 14, 2005

MARLBOROUGH -- As a funeral home director for more than 20 years, Richard Collins knows about death.

That is why he is hoping to prevent it as much as he possibly can.

Collins is buying a defibrillator for his Lincoln Street funeral home after dealing with a few close calls. According to those in his field, Collins is the first to make such a purchase.

Collins said his motivation to buy the defibrillator comes from a desire to prevent the worst from occurring during a funeral or wake at the Fitzgerald and Collins Funeral Home, which he owns.

"Thousands of people walk through these doors a month," Collins said. "Hopefully, I won't have to use it. But wouldn't it be nice if, God forbid, something happened and we had this to help us. We deal with death every day so for us to be able to actually save a life would be nice."

According to state and national funeral home associations, Collins is the first to purchase the lifesaving device for a funeral home.

David Walkinshaw, spokesman for the Weymouth-based Massachusetts Funeral Directors Association, said Collins is the first person he has ever heard of who has purchased a defibrillator.

Bob Vandenbergh, past president and current spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association, based in Wisconsin, said the idea has been floating around for the last year, first popping up at a funeral directors conference in Hawaii.

"A lot of people in the field were very impressed," Vandenbergh said, after paramedics did a demonstration on defibrillators. "I've started to see more of them at churches and public places where people gather, but not at funeral homes. I'm assuming it will be something that will be increasingly used by funeral homes in the future."

Vandenbergh, who has been in the business for 38 years, said he worries about liability.

"I think liability would become an issue," he said. "I mean we have attorneys who say not to offer someone even an aspirin. I can remember when having oxygen in the funeral home in case someone passed out was not always considered a good idea.

But Vandenbergh said tragedies do occur, and a defibrillator would help in an emergency situation. "In all my years, we've probably had less than a half dozen incidents," he said.

Heart attacks are one of the leading causes of death among Americans -- with sudden cardiac arrests claiming 250,000 lives a year. Collins said many who attend wakes and funerals are in shock, stressed out, grieving and not in their best health.

Collins said he does not want to take chances.

Years ago, when working at another funeral home in Massachusetts -- which he would not name -- a woman had what appeared to be a heart attack and later died. Although it ended up that the woman suffered from a seizure of some sort, Collins said he never forgot that.

"It will cost a couple of thousand dollars, but it's worth it," Collins said.

Defibrillators, with prices starting at about $2,500, dramatically increase survival rates for victims of cardiac arrest.
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