In March of 2013, Ikuo Kurose saved another man’s life. Kurose was attending his father’s funeral in Hokkaido when a family member at another funeral passed out. The young man’s heart had stopped beating. Kurose jumped into action, administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and, with the help of a nurse, got the man’s heart beating again.
Paramedics soon arrived to treat the fallen man and take him to hospital, where he was later said to be in good condition. For Kurose, it wasn’t merely that he was in the right place at the right time — it was a chance to put into practice the resuscitation methods that he deals with daily at work.
“He’s part of our Kansai senior sales team,” says Michael Van Zandt, president of Laerdal Medical Japan. “He’s been with the company for 15 years, from when Laerdal established its legal entity in Japan.”
Laerdal is a manufacturer of medical training and emergency care products, and provider of training courses. Based in Stavanger, Norway, the company was initially founded as a publisher and toymaker, later moving into the medical field where, today, it’s mainly known for its CPR training models and medical simulators. Its most recognised product — training mannequin Resusci Anne — is used to instruct nurses, emergency workers and the general public worldwide.
Van Zandt says this month marks a special milestone for the firm. “We’re celebrating our 75th anniversary,” he says. “It’s a family-owned company, but quite large as family-owned companies go. We have over 1,400 employees globally and 65 here in Japan.”
Anyone who’s taken a CPR course has probably trained on one of Laerdal’s products. In the professional field, the firm also provides high-end simulators where emergencies or medical complications can be replicated. Recent training models can even cry, sweat, or show heart arrhythmia.
The prenatal and birthing process is another area for the firm. Laerdal produces lifelike birthing simulators to help expectant mothers and caregivers make the process safer. The firm allocates a portion of its revenue to help in the birthing process in low-resource countries such as in Africa, or Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam. These philanthropic activities are delivered through an entity called Laerdal Global Health.
“Sometimes, it’s for breastfeeding,” says Van Zandt. “Sometimes, new mothers aren’t taught how to breastfeed. Other times, it’s for the birthing process: training midwives and nurse practitioners.”
These days, Laerdal is moving away from selling hardware to also providing solutions for customers in a training and education-based sphere. The simulators help in this regard. When placed in university hospitals, fire departments, and at Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force facilities, Van Zandt says the simulators act as magnets that pull in professionals for learning opportunities.
“Our focus these days is on nursing schools, universities, medical schools and large institutions [where people] need to be trained,” he says. “We don’t really focus on a given product’s features and benefits anymore. They’re more of a conduit to educate.
“I look at us as far less of a product-based company and more of a training- and education-based company going forward.”
The value of CPR training is undeniable. By his own calculations, Van Zandt estimates that one life can be saved for 25,000 people trained in CPR. So, taking one Tokyo ward with 240,000 residents as an example (Minato-ku), he says training just 10% of the population could save one life.
“We’d like to reach out to all the city wards and  prefectures in Japan,” he says. “If they’d like to have formal CPR training, we would like to collaborate with them to do so.”
Japan is one of the leading nations for automated external defibrillators (AEDs), which are used to shock cardiac patients back to life. Yet, Van Zandt says many lay people would not feel comfortable using AEDs in an emergency, even if one was nearby. However, if they learned CPR, bystanders could keep a patient alive until medical help arrived.
“CPR extends the life of the patient until the shock therapy can be applied,” says Van Zandt. “So it’s very important. If they knew CPR, all they’d need is to do it for five minutes or so, until the ambulance arrives, and they’ve extended a life until the shock treatment is administered.”
Van Zandt says Japan’s ageing population is a huge opportunity for Laerdal to expand its training programmes. About 1.2 million people are licensed nurses in Japan, almost exactly 1% of the population, presenting a massive opportunity for educational programmes that could help save lives.
Regular schools are another target. One of the firm’s projects with a school in Seki city, Gifu prefecture provides students with a CPR training programme. After being trained, students take home a mannequin to train family members, and then report back on their progress. Van Zandt says the programme has been very successful.
“It’s been going on for many years now. It’s almost like a pilot programme,” he points out. “We have to figure out how to expand that into more schools and more communities.”© Japan Today