Ventilator-Assisted Living©

Spring 2004, Vol. 18, No. 1

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Ventilator Backup: Are You Prepared?

A frequent topic of concern for ventilator users is what to do should the ventilator malfunction or quit, or there is a power failure. Here are some suggestions from veteran ventilator users. More are available at www.ventusers.org/net/what1.html.

photo of Larry KohoutLarry Kohout is a respiratory polio survivor in Minnesota who uses tracheostomy positive pressure ventilation.

I have used a ventilator 24/7 for the past three years. I have two ventilators — the LTV950™ (Pulmonetic Systems, Inc.) that I use both day and night, and the LP10 (Puritan Bennett) that I keep as a backup unit. I also have an Ambu® resuscitator bag and three external batteries (U1, 35 amp-hour batteries by EverOn, model EVA 12-33) supplied by my home health care provider. Each battery will power either of the ventilators for up to nine hours, and in this way I have survived two power outages lasting 19 hours and 23 hours respectively. In both cases my wife took the battery charger and dead batteries and walked down the five flights of stairs from our condo to use a power source at her parents’ home where she could plug in and recharge the dead batteries. We thought about purchasing a small generator but can’t afford it.

If you are formulating a disaster plan, you need to think beyond, “What do I do if my vent fails?” You also need to consider, “What do I do in case of a power failure?” Thinking about this shouldn’t panic you. It’s not thinking about it that ought to panic you. If you have made some sort of plan, the plan will probably work — at least as far as you have thought it through. Keep playing “What if?” games to find holes in your plan.

I thought I had covered all the bases but then a clear-thinking respiratory therapist asked me what I would do if my vent failed while I was out on a short shopping trip. She knew that I did not take the backup vent along and suggested a second resuscitator bag to keep in my van. I followed her suggestion and also purchased one of those compact 12-volt devices (Husky Jump Start System, Model HSK020HD, Home Depot) that are used for jumpstarting your car. It also has a cigarette lighter outlet on it that will run the vent if necessary.

Now when I leave my home, I have the external battery(ies), the power in the van, the 12-volt battery as backup and — if all else fails — the Ambu. I should emphasize that I take a sufficient num-ber of external batteries to provide power for the time I expect to be gone. The 12-volt battery and the Ambu are purely for emergencies.


photo of Bill MillerBill Miller, C1/C2 quad, uses tracheostomy positive pressure ventilation and lives in Florida.

The emergency management services (911 people) know I’m a priority for power. If the power goes out for an extended period, I’m among the first to have it restored. My primary backup is my van which has a converter that runs off the van’s battery to produce AC. If the van is running, the alternator keeps the battery strong (just like in regular vehicles) and I can have electricity as long as I have gasoline in the tank. I try to always leave it full or at least above half of a tank. My van would also allow me to drive to another location that had electricity, if there was no power for several days.

I also keep a very long, heavy-duty extension cord with a 3-outlet expander in the back of my van. If I’m out in the van and need electricity, I can use an outlet at a store or restaurant. If I’m at home, I can run the extension cord all the way from the van to my bedroom.

For the van, I purchased a generator that can do two crucial things: it can start a dead vehicle battery with a jumper cable attachment, and it provides plugs for electricity. But it is gas-powered (loud, gives off fumes and needs to be used about once a month to keep it running well) and small, so it’s only good in short-term scenarios but ideal for a dead van battery. These generators can be purchased at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Sears, etc. for about $300-500.

For ventilator backup, I have two LP10s (Puritan Bennett) and each has its own internal and external battery. The internal battery lasts about 45 minutes. The external battery lasts 8-10 hours (manufacturer’s claim) but on a full charge, I can get about 15 hours. To recharge it, I simply plug it in. For an emergency, it’s wise to be plugged in to keep that external battery as full as possible. You never know when you’ll need it.

I keep an Ambu® bag on my chair at all times, just in case. These resuscitators can be found online at less cost, about $20, no prescription required (www.buyeremp.com/dept.asp?dept%5Fid=10213). Technically they are disposable, but mine have lasted years by adding a bacteria filter and changing it periodically.

Ed. Note: Consumer Reports (November 2003) contained an excellent review “Generators: power in a pinch.”

Pulmonetic Systems, Inc. recently introduced the LTV® Universal Power Supply with an AC/DC converter, backup battery and backup battery charger capable of four hours of rechargeable external power.

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