Yesterday morning, researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine launched a game that might save someone’s life.

The MyHeartMap Challenge, which will run until Mar. 13, aims to draw awareness to automatic external defibrillators in the Philadelphia county. Through a scavenger hunt open to the public, the contest offers monetary prizes to groups that can locate the most defibrillators — machines that release electric shocks to the heart to restore normal heart rhythms after cardiac arrest.

Prizes include a $10,000 reward to the team that locates the most AEDs scattered in buildings and on streets throughout the city. Also, $50 will be awarded to the first person to photograph a special “golden” AED, located in important places.

“This will be the first AED map in a U.S. city by the public that would be comprehensive for the public,” said Raina Merchant, co-director of MyHeartMap and an Emergency Medicine professor at the Medical School .

Knowledge of nearby AED locations can make a difference when an individual suffers cardiac arrest. For every minute without defibrillation, a victim’s chances of survival after a heart attack decrease by 7 to 10 percent, according to MyHeartMap’s website.

When saving a patient’s life in Center City last year, Michael Hoaglin, a fourth-year Medical student, found the lack of an AED to be a major obstacle.

“I ran up to a 50-year-old gentleman who had collapsed on the street and I assessed him, but he didn’t have a pulse,” he said. “A nurse helped me start CPR while I called for a defibrillator,” he added. But in spite of searching a big restaurant and CVS, they could not find an AED right away.

After his experience, Hoaglin is also supportive of MyHeartMap’s goals. “Having a defibrillator increases survival chances manifold, in addition to proper CPR technique,” he said, adding that “our main problem was locating the device, not using it.”

Mapping projects such as the scavenger hunt can improve emergency responsiveness, he felt, since “you can see exactly where the holes are in the city.”

“Starting at a local level, making the 911 services aware of where AEDs are is a good first step,” Merchant said. She added that defibrillator maps must be updated regularly to maintain accuracy, and that there is currently no central organization that keeps track of AEDs.

Hoaglin felt that any bystander could have used the AED on the night of his cardiac save. “The automatic defibrillator is pretty much bulletproof,” he said, as, “it won’t even shock the heart if there isn’t a shockable rhythm.”

Merchant also hopes the scavenger hunt will help publicize AED issues. “It makes a lot more sense to really engage a large population,” she said. “I could go door to door, but I wouldn’t improve awareness of AEDs.”

College senior Lindsay Nadkarni, who is involved with the challenge, feels Penn students will be quick to sign up. “It’s the best way for us to gather the data,” she said, adding that “most people have smartphones and can take a picture, so it should be easy for them to participate.”

Alison Leung, a College junior who was involved with MyHeartMap research last summer, agreed. While her team entered over 1300 buildings during the summer, they found only 200 AEDs. “We also found that most people don’t know what an AED is, or what one looks like,” she said. “We hope to show that crowdsourcing contests can be used to collect data more efficiently.”

Using contests to publicize important social causes is also an important theme of Penn’s Year of Games program. David Fox, director of the Penn Reading Project, stressed the importance of games such as scavenger hunts in promoting social change.

“More and more people are looking to games to help propel social agendas,” he said. “While games include mental and physical skills, they are also about bringing people together. Building community groups is an important part of the theme, and it is evident in the MyHeartMap Challenge.”

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