Lee County sheriff's deputy steps in with CPR

LEESBURG -- Responding to a recent early morning call, deputies with the Lee County Sheriff's Office found a lone, middle-aged woman half-ejected from her car. With EMS en route, the deputies found a faint pulse in the unconscious victim and elected to administer CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, in an attempt to save her life.

According to Lee County Sheriff Reggie Rachals, one of the officers, 1st Lt. William Conway, brought a special mask from his patrol car, one designed to help facilitate the CPR procedure. The mask blocks the victim's body fluids from the administrator as he breathes into the mouth. Soon after starting the CPR, Lee County paramedics arrived on the scene and, with assistance from the deputies, took charge of the medical treatment, Rachals said.

The woman was transported to Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital where, Rachals said, she was pronounced dead upon arrival. According to reports, some of the hospital staff commended the sheriff's deputies for their lifesaving attempt, with at least one medical professional commenting that he "almost never heard of law enforcement attempting CPR these days."

So why is it so rare?

Lewis Harris, chief deputy with the Lee County Sheriff's Office, said that while deputies are not required by law to use CPR in life-threatening situations and continuing certification isn't mandatory, each officer must pass CPR training in the police academy before being hired. In addition, refresher classes are offered to the officers on a regular basis, Harris said.

"I believe that 98 percent of my guys would give CPR if appropriate," Harris said. "Some things you have to do so you can sleep at night."

Still, Harris says, there could be some -- with the sheriff's office or any other agency -- who might hesitate when facing an emergency situation.

"It could be a little scary," Harris said. "There might be blood, vomit or mucous around the victim's mouth, and you never know about their medical history. There's also the fear of being sued."

A nasty fact of life today is the uncertain outcome of such decisions. Like most other states, Georgia has a so-called "good Samaritan" law designed to protect not only first responders, but everyday people should their well-intentioned actions happen to go sour. But the laws don't always function as they're intended.

According to lawenforcement.com, when a police officer in New Britain, Conn., administered CPR in a failed attempt to save a 10-year-old boy, he wound up with some vomit in his mouth. Concerned with possible transmission of disease, the officer consulted with city officials to determine if he would be covered under worker's compensation if he experienced ill effects. Incredibly, risk-management officials advised him in writing that the incident was "not casually related to a work-related condition" and that the city of New Britain would contest payment of any medical claims.

On the other hand, in March CNN reported that an elderly California woman died after a staffer with CPR training at her living facility refused to perform the procedure. The reason given by the staffer was that the living facility has a policy against employees providing medical care.

"In America where there's a lawyer behind every defibrillator, there's a worry that some people have "Am I going to get sued?" Arthur Caplan, a medical ethicist at New York University, told CNN.

But Lee deputies seem to think officers seldom give CPR because conditions for its application happen infrequently.

"That was an unusual, yet perfect, set of circumstances for CPR," said Sgt. 1st Class Casey Roberts with the Lee County Sheriff's Office. "As law enforcement officers, our first commitment is to public safety. A lot of the time that means securing the scene to make it safe for everyone involved.

"Plus, in most cases other agencies like the fire department and EMS arrive at about the same time."

Officials say Roberts has performed "many" CPR procedures as an Army medic in the Iraq War.