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Defibrillator market getsa jump start

Increased public acceptance and awareness is jump starting the market for external defibrillators. By CNBC's Hampton Pearson.
/ Source: CNBC

Tony Jasionowski nearly died at his desk recently after suffering sudden cardiac arrest.

“I fell over on my chair and passed out,” he said. “They had to use the defibrillator on me.”

Put in place by Tony's employer, Panasonic, that defibrillator and thousands like it are surfacing in corporate offices across America.

“Medtronic has sold LIFEPAK (automated external defibrillators) to about half of the fortune 500 companies and 63 of the fortune 100 companies,” said Robert White, president of Medtronic’s Emergency Response Systems business unit.

Automated external defibrillators -- also known as AED's -- are small lightweight devices that "read" a person's heart rhythm and can shock a stalled heart back into action. In recent years, major medical device makers like Medtronic have made them much easier to use by people without medical backgrounds. So easy, in fact, they can coach anyone through saving a life.

Every day in the U.S., more than 1,200 people die from cardiac arrest before they can make it to the hospital. Medical experts estimate 100,000 lives could be saved each year if AED's were more widely deployed.

All 50 states now have laws on the books encouraging their use.And nearly a dozen  -- including New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island -- have passed laws requiring AEDs in health clubs and large public schools, in some cases providing the funds to pay for them.

“Funds are probably the number one question in terms of this new direction: how much will these cost?” said Richard Cauchi, head of the Health Care Program at the National Conference of State Legislatures. “Although the price of AED's have come down, it's a little too early to say whether requirements for use of AED's will spread nationwide.”

Analysts say that increased public acceptance and awareness is jump starting the market for external defibrillators. Leading medical device maker Medtronic has seen a 400-percent increase in sales of it's LIFEPAK product in the last 5 years. And it's now moving into home sales.

“We've got partnerships with Costco, Walgreens, and Sam's Club, a division of Wal-Mart, to sell the Medtronic LIFEPAK AEDs through their dot-com services,” said White.

Medtronic may be the largest company making AEDs, but they aren't the only firm making money. Other players based on market share include: Philips, Zoll, and Cardiac Science

“If the entire AED market takes off and you want exposure to that market, then Zoll and Cardiac Science would be a more pure way to get that exposure than would be Medtronic or Phillips,” said Alex Arrow, an analyst who follows medical technology at Lazard Freres.

(Lazard Freres periodically does investment banking work with Medtronic, and Arrow personally owns shares of Cardiac Science.)