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Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Sudden Cardiac Arrest

On Monday Night Football we were horrified to watch the collapse of Buffalo Bills safety Demar Hamlin. While sports injuries are common, it is not often we see a young vital person suddenly collapse and require extreme life-saving measures. Instances of Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) are typically not part of our public consciousness, they are constrained to our everyday life and though equally tragic, are not widely witnessed by a national audience. The reality of sudden cardiac arrest was put into stark relief last Monday. 

Sudden Cardiac Arrest is the abrupt loss of heart function, breathing, and consciousness. The condition usually results from a problem with your heart's electrical system, which disrupts your heart's pumping action and stops blood flow to your body. SCA isn't the same as a heart attack when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked. Sudden Cardiac Arrest is varied and includes many medical diagnoses however, they always share this commonality - a person suddenly collapses and requires swift CPR and AED interventions to save their life. 

Watching the events of Monday night we were shocked. The reality that we are all only a moment away from collapse and the need for an emergency response gives us pause.  It is not often we see these types of interventions and it's easy to forget they occur every minute of every day. Demar Hamlin received immediate life-saving treatment, we are hopeful he will fully recover due to those interventions and the preparations made well in advance of the events on the field. Under other circumstances, it is possible, even likely, those same preparations will not be in place. It is possible those life-saving actions may fall to you. Our lives can change in the blink of an eye, both as a victim and a rescuer. Suddenly your life is dependent on someone else's actions or their life is dependent on your actions. Either way, you are forever changed by action or regret.

According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, only one-third of SCA victims receive CPR from bystanders and fewer than five percent of victims are treated with automated external defibrillators (AEDs) before EMS arrives at the scene. But for every minute that passes without CPR and defibrillation, the chances of survival decrease by 7-10%. As a result, only 10% of victims survive. Yet survival rates could triple if more people knew what to do when SCA strikes. In fact, tens of thousands of additional lives could be saved each year if bystanders acted quickly. Why don’t more people know and use these fundamental lifesaving skills? The foundation lists these seven common myths that may be barriers to bystander action.

Myth No. 1: SCA is rare. 
Fact: The number of people who die from SCA each day is equivalent to the number who would die if two jet planes crashed every single day killing nearly everyone on board.
Myth: No. 2: SCA is the same as a heart attack.
Fact: When people have heart attacks, they are awake and their hearts are beating. When people have SCA, they are not awake and their hearts are not beating. 
Myth No. 3: SCA only happens to the elderly.
Fact: SCA happens to people of all ages, including more than 7,000 youth under the age of 18 each year.
Myth No. 4: SCA only happens to people with a history of heart problems.
Fact: SCA is often the first indication of a heart problem.
Myth No. 5: Victims are better off waiting for professional help to arrive.
Fact: Immediate bystander intervention can mean the difference between life and death.
Myth No. 6: Only trained personnel are allowed to use AEDs.
Fact: AEDs can be used effectively by anyone who can follow visual and voice prompts.
Myth No. 7: AEDs can hurt people by shocking them inappropriately.
Fact: AEDs are safe and effective and will not shock the heart unless shocks are needed to restore a healthy heartbeat.*

Research tells us that people do not perform CRP or use an AED because they lack confidence and are afraid. Afraid they have not diagnosed SCA properly, afraid they will not perform CPR perfectly, afraid they will use the AED wrong. DO NOT BE AFRAID. Your bold actions will only help. When the heart stops, the lack of oxygen-rich blood can cause death or permanent brain damage within minutes. Time is critical when you're helping an unconscious person who isn't breathing. If you see someone who's unconscious and not breathing do the following:

Call 911. If you have immediate access to a telephone, call before beginning CPR. 911 will get help to you quickly and can coach you through giving CPR until help arrives.

Perform CPR. Quickly check the person's breathing. If the person isn't breathing normally, begin CPR. Push hard and fast on the person's chest at the rate of 100 to 120 compressions a minute. If you've been trained in CPR, check the person's airway and deliver rescue breaths after every 30 compressions. If you haven't been trained, just continue chest compressions. Allow the chest to rise completely between compression cycles. Keep doing this until a portable defibrillator is available or emergency workers arrive.

Use an AED, if one is available. It will give you step-by-step voice instructions. Continue chest compressions while the defibrillator is charging. When it's charged, the defibrillator will check the person's heart rhythm and recommend a shock if needed. Deliver one shock if advised by the device and then immediately resume CPR, starting with chest compressions, or give chest compressions only, for about two minutes. Using the defibrillator, check the person's heart rhythm. If necessary, the defibrillator will give another shock. Repeat this cycle until the person recovers consciousness or emergency workers take over. AEDs can be used effectively by anyone who can follow visual and voice prompts. AEDs are safe and effective and will not shock the heart unless shocks are needed to restore a healthy heartbeat.

Prepare.  The price of AEDs has dropped to a point where they are affordable for many households (about $2000) 75% of sudden cardiac arrests occur at home. WSD has deployed AEDs in every school and at the Apple Bowl and Recreation Park but we need more. If you are interested in making a donation to WSD please contact your child’s school, coach, or teacher. WSD offers CPR/AED training to our staff and in many cases requires training. If you would like CPR/AED training you can find classes in your area at RedCross.Org or CPR.Heart.Org

Sudden Cardiac Arrest is a national public health crisis affecting 1,000 people outside hospital settings each day. It strikes people of all ages who may seem to be healthy, even children and teens. You can make a difference. Today only 10% of people survive Sudden Cardiac Arrest. If bystanders give CPR & use AEDs immediately 50% could survive.

*For more information go to

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