Heart Disease: CPR and Automatic External Defibrillators

Deanne Stein Health Guide
  • I was working on a blog a couple of weeks ago about CPR. I was just about done with it and when it came time to post it, a fellow journalist died. Tim Russert, NBC’s beloved anchor of “Meet the Press,” died of a heart attack at his Washington bureau.  He was 58.  I know his death got a lot of air time through all of the media outlets, to the point some people even complained. But it didn't bother me. I felt a silent bond with him, actually. I didn't know Tim Russert personally, but was still deeply saddened by his death nonetheless.

    I felt a connection with him because he was at work when his attack occurred. I, too, was at work when my stroke came on. It was terrifying. I wonder if he knew what was happening to him? I wonder if he thought constantly about the ones he loved? I did. I remember feeling helpless and sad. But, looking back, I realize I wasn't helpless - I was able to get to the hospital in time. I survived, but so many people like Russert don't.

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    According to the AHA, about 310,000 coronary heart disease deaths occur out-of-hospital or in emergency departments each year in the U.S. Of those deaths, about 166,000 lives are claimed by sudden cardiac arrest, that's roughly 450 lives per day. I figured sudden cardiac arrest was a heart attack, but actually it's not the same thing at all. Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when electrical impulses in the heart become really fast or chaotic. This causes the heart to suddenly stop beating. A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart muscle is blocked. However, a heart attack can cause cardiac arrest. More people die from sudden cardiac arrest than from breast cancer, prostate cancer, AIDS, house fires, handguns and traffic accidents COMBINED.
    A person's chances of dying from sudden cardiac arrest are far better, though, if they receive CPR and early defibrillation with an AED. However, less than one-third of adult sudden cardiac arrest victims receive bystander CPR. If more bystanders who knew CPR and would actually perform it effectively, it could double or even triple a victim's chance of survival.
    The American Heart Association trains 10 million people in CPR each year. But even if you know CPR, it doesn't help unless you use it. For victims of a sudden cardiac arrest, a bystander who performs immediate CPR and defibrillation with an AED could make a life or death difference.

Published On: July 01, 2008