March Madness and my Uncle Larry

March Madness is the best of times for a basketball fan. Most Hoosiers believe the best basketball is played in Indiana.

March Madness is the best of times for a basketball fan. Most Hoosiers believe the best basketball is played in Indiana. I know that many of you misguided souls who went to school in the ACC, Kentucky, Kansas, Arizona, or UCLA will disagree about the quality of basketball, but will appreciate the story of my Uncle Larry.

My Uncle Larry died this year, and his death has some important implications for our dental practices. A few months shy of his 80th birthday, Uncle Larry collapsed during a basketball game at his church. He had scored only two points in the first half, and created a new definition of a “season low.”

Larry was important to me. He and my father were business partners. Working for them not only paid for my undergraduate and dental education, but it also formed the basis of my understanding of how to run a business and our responsibilities in terms of customer service. Uncle Larry also taught me how a small business owner can enjoy a hobby in addition to taking care of his business, personal life, and civic involvement.

Larry was the quintessential Hoosier when it came to his love of basketball. After playing basketball for his high school and college teams, Larry continued his involvement in the game as a referee. He officiated two state final games before retiring. The church league he was playing in was a basketball ministry for city youth. The contacts he made in the schools and his civic involvement helped to build his business. The superb physical condition he maintained through his hobby certainly benefited his home and family life.

Where this story involves our dental practices is the fact that my Uncle Larry didn’t really have to die that day. Larry collapsed from a simple cardiac rhythm problem, and died due to the failure of emergency procedures. By the time a defibrillator had restored the proper rhythm of my uncle’s heart, his brain would no longer function.

That brings me to a question about emergency procedures. How good are your office emergency procedures? Do you actually have written emergency procedures? When did you last perform staff training in this area? These questions will definitely be asked if anyone experiences a medical emergency in your office. The last question will be about why you have chosen not to have a defibrillator in your office if you don’t have one.

If you don’t have a defibrillator, I recommend you buy two. More than 80 percent of sudden cardiac arrests occur at home, and only 5 percent are defibrillated in time to restart the patient’s heart and breathing. This has probably happened to some dentist you know. And, if you are going to buy a defibrillator for your office, maybe you should think about having one at home, too. This really is not asking too much, because portable defibrillators have become relatively inexpensive and very easy to use. You can now buy the Phillips HeartStart at for $1,495. This device has voice prompts that guide you step by step through the process. Step One is to apply two adhesive pads to the victim’s chest to determine whether the problem is cardiac arrest. If defibrillation is indicated, the machine will instruct you to press a button to start the process. The voice prompts will also guide you through CPR.

There are several low-cost defibrillators on the market today. I only mention the Phillips model because it is the only one with which I am familiar. You may have noticed that defibrillators are starting to appear everywhere. They can be found in airline terminals, and I frequently see them in shopping malls and restaurants. Trust me on this one! Now that defibrillators are in all of these locations, the legal community will very quickly regard it as the standard of care for our offices.

Hopefully, if you decide to get a defibrillator, it won’t be because you are worried about a bunch of lawyers and their definition of standard of care. Remember, this device could save your own life or someone else’s life in your practice family. More importantly, I can tell you from first-hand experience what it feels like when the doctor tells you, “His heart is fine and his body is in perfect shape. We should have saved him.”

Dr. Michael Gradeless, a 1980 graduate of Indiana University, practices preventive dentistry in Indianapolis with an emphasis on cosmetics and implants. He is an adjunct faculty member at Indiana University, where he teaches the Pride Institute university curriculum of dental management. He also is the editor for the Indiana Dental Association. Contact him at (317) 841-3130 or email to

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