Laerdal no dummy when it comes to CPR

The family-owned Norwegian company leads the world in resuscitation training manikins

Laerdal Medical

Photo courtesy of Laerdal Medical AS
A training session using the company’s Resuscitation Quality Improvement system.

Thomas Laudal
Stavanger, Norway

In January 2018, the United States-based tech outlet, Digital Journal, wrote that the company holding the leading position in the global healthcare simulation market was the Stavanger-headquartered Laerdal Medical. There are two major competitors in the United States and one in Canada, but Laerdal is the company the American Heart Association chose as partners when it established the joint venture Resuscitation Quality Improvement in July. The plan is to disseminate the knowhow, the expert software, and the advanced manikins to all healthcare professionals in the United States.

In December 2017, Laerdal Medical also became a major supplier to the U.S. Army. It was one of seven selected companies awarded a share of a $186 million federal contract by the U.S. Army Contracting Command for high-fidelity patient and veterinary simulators.

Laerdal’s manikins are in use in more than 400 U.S. hospitals, with a manufacturing plant in America. The aim is to contribute to improving CPR skills in 5,000 American hospitals before 2025. But Laerdal is not only focusing on Norway and the United States. It is present, and growing, in more than 25 countries, with manufacturing plants in Norway, China, and Mexico.

How did this Norwegian company from a relatively small coastal town of Stavanger become a global leader in advanced computer-based resuscitation? There were no plastic-producing traditions or healthcare-related industry to build on in Stavanger. The short answer is: by coincidence, with persistence and hard work. But it would never have happened without a leader with two intense passions: an entrepreneurial passion to create something new, and a passion for saving lives.

Laerdal Medical

Photo courtesy of Laerdal Medical AS
In 1951, Asmund Laerdal saved his 2-year-old son from drowning, then developed the CPR resuscitation manikin. Now, that son, Tore, is CEO of Laerdal Medical, which produces computerized models, and Laerdal Global Health, which provides manikins to poor regions in Asia and Africa.

It started in 1949 when the 36-year-old adventurer Asmund Laerdal from Stavanger returned home from the United States with the ingredients for a brand-new substance: flexible plastic. In his home, he experimented with softeners, dyes, and temperatures in the kitchen oven, until his wife—who was pregnant with their youngest child, Tore—could no longer stand the smell. After months of agonizing, Laerdal managed to create a doll in flexible plastic. He called the doll, which had natural hair and sleeping eyes, Anne. She became an immediate hit in Norway, and before long was a hit all over toy-starved post-war Europe. Laerdal expanded his plastic production to plastic cars and trucks. His plastic toys were clearly starting to outperform his publishing business, which focused on children’s books and calendars.

The gradual transition to health-related products started in 1958. Peter Safar, a chief doctor at Baltimore City Hospital, was about to publish the first of his two ground-breaking papers showing that the stimulation of breathing was critical in resuscitation procedures. In the summer of 1958, Safar attended a conference of Scandinavian anesthesiologists in Gausdal, Norway. Here he met Dr. Bjørn Lind from Stavanger, who was inspired by Safar’s ideas about resuscitation. One of the issues they discussed were the need for training manikins. Few people would be willing to train rescue breathing on people by breathing directly into their mouth. Then Lind got the idea. He knew a Stavanger publisher and toymaker who might be of help.

It turned out that Laerdal still had a vivid memory from some years back of how he rescued his 2-year-old son, Tore, from drowning. Laerdal was more than willing to assist when he was contacted by Dr. Lind. That same year, a representative of the Norwegian Civil Defence also contacted Laerdal with an interest in developing a plastic mask for resuscitation training. He not only developed such a mask, he agreed to travel to the United States in 1959 to discuss resuscitation with probably the greatest expert at the time, Peter Safar.

Gradually, Laerdal transformed into a producer of manikins and other products for resuscitation. Asmund died in 1981 of cancer. By that time, his youngest son, Tore Laerdal, was ready to take charge. It was now clear that the company’s main purpose was to save lives. Today, the manikins have been computerized and equipped with sensors that are connected to advanced decision support systems to monitor and advise hospital professionals how to improve their CPR skills in real time.

Apart from being a family-owned company, the unique feature of Laerdal is its dual business model. Laerdal AS owns two worldwide companies, Laerdal Medical AS, producing and profiting from the advanced manikins, software packages, and competence-based services; and Laerdal Global Health AS, focusing on the production of affordable manikins for training of field workers and mothers, linked to resuscitation and childbirth in developing countries. Laerdal AS uses a substantial part of the company’s profits on global development programs, distributing simple manikins and courses to poor regions in Asia and Africa through Laerdal Global Health. Today, there is no doubt that the two passions of Asmund Laerdal are shared by his son and successor and by all the associates in Laerdal, to the benefit of thousands of disadvantaged people in developing countries, and thousands of patients and health-care professionals.

Thomas Laudal is an Associate Professor of business strategy at the University of Stavanger Business School. He has edited and written chapters in several textbooks, and his research is quoted in more than 200 journal articles. His work background includes advisory work on trade policies for the Norwegian Ministry of Industry, consultancy for the oil and gas industry, and contract research for IRIS and Statskonsult.

This article originally appeared in the October 19, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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