Mercer Island doctor is a Lifesaver - Floyd Short began defibrillation program for firefighter EMTs

By Ruth Longoria

The term ``Lifesaver'' is often used frivolously to describe someone who gets you out of a jam or minor difficulty, but one Mercer Island resident takes that definition to a higher level.

Dr. Floyd Short, who initiated the first firefighter EMT defibrillation program in the world -- here on the Island --- is directly and indirectly responsible for literally saving thousands of lives.

Short will be honored by the Medic One Foundation at an awards ceremony Thursday, April 7, with the 2005 Lifesaver Hall of Fame Award. The ceremony takes place at 11 a.m., as part of the Medic One Foundation's sixth annual Luncheon and Silent Auction fund-raiser at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center in Seattle. Also honored at the ceremony will be the 1970 University of Washington Paramedic Training Class No. 1.

Short, a 72-year-old retired cardiologist and Island resident, was nominated for the award by Mercer Island Fire Department Commander Walt Mauldin.

``I call him the amazing, wonderful Dr. Short -- he clearly deserves the award,'' Mauldin said of the man who trained him in emergency medical response techniques almost 30 years ago when Mauldin started out in the department as a volunteer firefighter.

In the early 1970s, Island resident Hunter Simpson donated a defibrillator to the Island's fire department. Simpson's company, Physio-Control, was the first company to make portable defibrillation units.

However, the unit wasn't used at first because no one knew what to do with the device, Short said.

``I remember, Hunter got several of us together... and said, `Why don't you organize something to start using the unit -- after all, you own it,''' Short recalled. ``Well, paramedics get thousands of hours training, but I'd been around the firefighters and I knew they were very smart, very adaptable and capable. So, I worked out a little training program.''

Short used his medical expertise to train Island firefighters to save lives. At first, it was an eight-hour training that taught the firefighters anatomy, the physiology of the heart, and how to recognize arrhythmias (different patterns of heart beats), including ventricular fibrillation, also known as sudden cardiac death, which is always fatal, Short said. However, by re-starting the heart the heart is de-fibrillated, thus the name of the device.

Mauldin said there's an average of one to 1.5 times per month a person is given a shock to restart their heart here on the Island. That's about 17 or 18 times a year, he said.

When a person has a heart attack, there's about a six-minute window of time that they are considered viable -- meaning not brain dead -- the heart can be restarted with less chance of brain damage if the heart is restarted within four minutes. That time can be extended with CPR, Mauldin said.

Short's program to train Island firefighters became a model for other city departments and, eventually, the program became fairly standard.

``Now, it's gone a step further and the public learns and does defibrillation even,'' Mauldin said. ``There used to be a big gap between doctors and firefighters. But Dr. Short closed that gap. He interacted with the troops and made the whole process work.''

Short and his wife, Faye have lived on the Island for 42 years. They have two grown children, Floyd G. Short of Mercer Island, and Katie Kelley, of Lacey, as well as four grandchildren.

Short was born in Springfield, Ill. He wanted to be a fireman when he was a child, but his heart began to turn to medicine when he took first aid training as a Boy Scout.

While in college, he decided to pursue a career in medicine. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1954 from Carleton College, in Northfield, Minn. Then he studied at the University of Rochester Medical School, in Rochester, N.Y., where he earned a medical degree in 1959.

After a two-year internship at the University of North Carolina in Chappel Hill, where he met and married Faye in 1960, Short was drafted into the Army and was stationed for two years in Germany.

Upon his return to the states in 1963, Short finished his residency training at Harborview, under the direction of Leonard Cobb, who started Medic One in Seattle. Cobb asked Short to stay on as a faculty member at Harborview, which he did for a few years, before going into private practice as a cardiologist at the Seattle Heart Clinic.

Short retired from private practice in 1997, but continued to work with and oversee the Island fire department's EMT training until about a year ago, when he retired full-time.

Short said he is very honored to receive the Medic One Award Lifesaver Award.

Although Short admits he has saved many lives through the years by restarting hearts with defibrillators, he said his most exciting experience was in the 1980s while he was exercising at the Island's Jewish Community Center. One day a week, Short joined dozens of other Islanders at the center to work out. A defibrillator had been set up in the exercise area so people could check their heart rate at certain times during their workout. As Short and another gentleman were walking around the room, a few feet from the devise, the other man fell down.

``He just dropped like a stone. I took one step to the defibrillator, another few steps to shock him with it, and he woke right up again,'' Short said. ``The man survived and lived another 20 years after that. That's the most dramatic save I've ever had.''

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