It can happen anywhere, anytime. On the beach, on the golf course, even on vacation. In fact studies have shown that almost anyone, anywhere can be at risk of Sudden Cardiac Arrest. Sudden Cardiac Arrest is the sudden cessation of cardiac rhythm and effective pumping of the heart. It occurs without warning it can occur in someone old or young, and it is different from a heart attack in that a heart attack is the blockage of a blood vessel in the heart with the loss of heart muscle. Dr Randle Wolff, MD Medical Director of Delray Beach Fire Rescue explains that people often confuse Sudden Cardiac Arrest with a heart attack. “A heart attack occurs with symptoms such as chest pain shortness of breath breaking out in a sweat, pain in the chest sometimes radiating into the jaw and down the arms. So it’s a number of symptoms that can onset gradually and they sometimes persist over a period of time before people need or get help. On the other hand Sudden Cardiac Arrest occurs without warning, and the patient will loose circulation to their brain, to the rest of their body and loose consciousness suddenly.”
In the event of Sudden Cardiac Arrest, Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation or CPR can help keep a victim alive until skilled professionals arrive. But according to the American Heart Association the only way to increase the chances of actually surviving the episode is by early defibrillation. Dr. Wolff explains: “In the Sudden Cardiac Arrest victim, the malfunction that causes this problem is a sudden change of rhythm of the heart. This rhythm is usually characterized by what we call ventricular fibrillation, which is an irregular rhythm that occurs in the heart. What happens in the heart it changes from a nice regular squeezing action to a very irregular motion of the heart so that there is no more effective circulation to the body. A patient who has suffered this needs intervention very quickly one needs to shock the heart back into a regular rhythm, and that act of shocking we call defibrillation.
Despite this understanding 95 percent of those suffering sudden cardiac arrest do not survive. It is statistics like these that prompted the American Heart Association to enact new Emergency Cardiac Care Guidelines that recommend a victim outside of a hospital setting receive defibrillation within 4-5 minutes. And while rescue units make heroic efforts and do save lives everyday, Paramedic Robert Moreland Chief of Emergency Medical Services in Delray Beach Florida knows that getting to a victim in less than 5 minutes can often be challenging. Says the Chief: “Ã¢Â?Â¦Even in the most ideal situation once someone has collapsed and someone recognizes that a cardiac arrest has occurred and they have the presence of mind to dial 911 it goes through the dispatch system the dispatcher has to get the information to the unit. Even in a system like ours where we pride ourselves on response times of 4 to 5 minutes the truth is it’s usually more like 8 to 10 by the time the whole process has occurred and the paramedics arrive on scene. We know that if ventricular fibrillation is present that survivability is reduced by about 7 to 10% per minute so after 10 minutes there is basically no chance of survival in most instances. In an effort to increase the odds of surviving sudden cardiac arrest, medical device manufacturers looked into ways to put defibrillation technology closer to the victim. This led to the development of a device that could save as many as 50,000 lives a year, the Automated External Defibrillator, or AED. An AED is a device that is used for bringing a heart back to a normal rhythm by a lay person. If somebody is in cardiac arrest it is a device that can be used by practically anyone with little or no training to bring that person literally back to life. Today you can find AED’s in most public access areas, in public airports, on private aircraft, public aircraft, and all the major airlines as well as many sports stadiums and arenas are starting to install them. AED’s seem to be turning up just about anywhere there are large groups of people gathering, which according to the American Heart Association is a very good thing. In the state of New York for example it is mandated that all schools have an AED on site.
With the proven success of AED’s deployed in public places, manufacturers of the devices are now developing and marketing AED’s specifically designed for home use. With the understanding that 70% of all Sudden Cardiac Arrests occur at home, paramedics like Chief Moreland agree that to the person most at risk, having an AED at home could be as critical a life saving device as a smoke detector or fire extinguisher. “I think AED’s in the home are a good idea especially for the high risk patients. As long as training has been provided to the family and persons that would be around. Obviously this would be almost immediate application of the AED, and we know that with every minute that goes by we have that 10% reduction in survivability, so from our point of view if the patient has been successfully defibrillated, once the paramedics arrive its just a matter of stabilizing the patient and transporting him to the appropriate facilities.
While one can never predict a life threatening situation or medical emergency, experts agree that being prepared is the best way to survive. Finding new ways of getting life saving equipment to victims faster can often make the difference between life and death.