Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Obesity Growing Concern For Paramedics, Presidential Candidates

It's probably one of the more treacherous, or at least troubling places, to deal with the obesity epidemic in America: ambulance and emergency services.

And it's one of the reasons Jenn Vasquez, one of Carroll County's eight full-time paramedics, spoke to the Carroll Rotary Club recenty.

The ambulance service is looking to add to its inventory of Stryker Power Pro Cots, devices that make it easier to lift increasingly heavier victims.

"Every one of us is bearing more weight than is safe," Vasquez said. "In all seriousness our work is becoming heavier."

In recent days local emergency-response officials have told both the Rotary Club and the Carroll Daily Times Herald that the weight of victims has shot up dramatically, that it is not unusual to be transporting people over 300 pounds, or even more than 500 pounds.

Nationally the obesity rate tops 20 percent and 31 states saw an increase last year.

The Carroll County Ambulance Service recently bought two of the Stryker Power Pro cots and plans to add four over the next two years.

"The former nonmechanized cots were rated to hold no more than 500 pounds, and it would take muscle from paramedics and first responders on all sides to get a large patient moved," the Carroll Daily Times Herald reports. "Powered by a rechargeable 24-volt battery, the new cot can easily lift a patient weighing as much as 700 pounds."

The service says they have come close to seeing if that threshold, well, holds.

Besides being a topic among emergency officials obesity is a topic on the presidential campaign trail.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's dramatic weight loss of more than 100 pounds is well chronicled. And tomorrow, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is expected to speak to a national conference on obesity.

As for the war on the front lines, the one waged by folks like Vasquez, it is not getting any easier. In fact, if people keeping eating themselves into Jabba The Hut figures, it is likely some family, some day will have to do what the children in the fictional book "What's Eating Gilbert Grape" did with their overweight mother. They burned the house down when she died so the ambulance personnel or coronor's office wouldn't have to use a crane to get her body from its deathbed inside.

This story is cross-posted at Iowa Independent.

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