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Protecting Hearts During Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month

Post Date:09/29/2023 1:40 PM

 woman doing hand-only CPR as AED is brought

By Maureen Legg, Co-Executive Director, Eric Paredes Save A Life Foundation


The year 2023 has been a flashpoint for sudden cardiac arrest awareness in this country, with such high-profile people as Damar Hamlin, an NFL player who went into sudden cardiac arrest during a game, and LeBron James' son Bronny James, who was stricken during practice.  Just this summer, three San Diego youths collapsed in sudden cardiac arrest from an undetected heart condition – two were lost. These terrifying stories have left many parents wondering if their children could be vulnerable.

October is Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month, which presents an opportunity to consider why it’s vitally important to be prepared to Call – Push – Shock in a cardiac emergency at home, in school, on the field and in the community.

According to the state, California has the highest number of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, with 31,500 people lost in 2022, including hundreds of young people. California also has one of the lowest survival rates at just 7.8%, well below the national average of 9.3%.  In 2021, 2,219 San Diegans suffered a sudden cardiac arrest, with 69% occurring at home and 19% in a public setting. Of these victims, 48% received cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) from a bystander and just 4% a shock from a publicly accessible defibrillator before emergency medical services arrived.

Even with the excellent emergency medical response we have in San Diego, a cardiac arrest victim’s best chance of survival is when a bystander immediately calls 911, delivers hands-only CPR and uses the nearest automated external defibrillator in the first minutes of a collapse.

People should not hesitate to use CPR or a defibrillator on a sudden cardiac arrest victim. Their heart has stopped and they are probably not breathing. Sometimes a victim will make gasping sounds or shake as if having a seizure, but they are unresponsive, which signals they are in cardiac arrest. Any effort made to keep their heart pumping until emergency responders arrive can only help, and 911 operators are ready to talk a bystander through this process.

 Current guidelines for a sudden cardiac arrest victim recommend hands-only CPR. Here are the steps:

  • Kneel over the victim, clasping hand over hand, and push hard and fast in the center of the chest at a pace of about 120 compressions per minute. The song “Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees is an example of the right pace, but choosing a favorite song ahead of time will help a bystander keep the beat in an emergency.
  • Likewise, defibrillators in public buildings were designed for bystanders to use. Once opened, audio-visual instructions guide the bystander in setting up the device so it can determine if the victim needs a shock. State and federal Good Samaritan laws protect those who try to use CPR and a defibrillator to help a sudden cardiac arrest victim. This ensures bystanders will not be blamed if the victim does not survive.

The most important action a family, school, team, workplace, camp or club can take is to have a cardiac emergency response plan so all are ready to act. Critical to the plan’s success is to write it down, share it with everyone and practice it twice a year. Also helpful is to practice doing hands-only CPR. While it’s not necessary to be certified to help a sudden cardiac arrest victim, having hands-on experience empowers bystanders to take quick action.There are many organized programs, but you can make your own training manikin at home and teach the whole family!

Here's how:

  • Get a towel, t-shirt and roll of toilet paper
  • Pull the t-shirt through the toilet roll
  • Fold the roll into the towel
  • Compress to the beat of "Stayin' Alive."

 For free sudden cardiac arrest prevention resources, visit the Eric Paredes Save A Life Foundation.

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