Thursday, October 22, 2015

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness

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Sudden Cardiac Arrest is NOT a heart attack.  Do you know the difference?

According to the American Heart Association:
  • Heart Attack: "A heart attack occurs when a blocked artery prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching a section of the heart. If the blocked artery is not reopened quickly, the part of the heart normally nourished by that artery begins to die. The longer a person goes without treatment, the greater the damage. Symptoms of a heart attack may be immediate and intense. More often, though, symptoms start slowly and persist for hours, days or weeks before a heart attack. Unlike with sudden cardiac arrest, the heart usually does not stop beating during a heart attack. The heart attack symptoms in women can be different than men." 
  •  Sudden Cardiac Arrest: "Sudden cardiac arrest occurs suddenly and often without warning. It is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). With its pumping action disrupted, the heart cannot pump blood to the brain, lungs and other organs. Seconds later, a person loses consciousness and has no pulse. Death occurs within minutes if the victim does not receive treatment."
Did you catch that?  Occurs suddenly and often without warning.

Without warning.

And it can happen to anyone.

Regardless of how healthy you eat and how often you exercise. 

Treatment for sudden cardiac arrest is shocking the heart with an automated external defibrillator (AED).  If an AED is not available, chest compressions must be performed until an AED arrives with the ambulance.

I have a friend, we will call her Friend, who was recently diagnosed with a heart condition which can disrupt the heart rhythm and cause sudden cardiac arrest.

I will take this opportunity to tell you that Friend is alive and well, but this is a scary story.

Here are her words....

"Heart disease can affect anyone at any time and does not discriminate based on gender, race or age and it is the leading cause of death in the United States.  Sudden Cardiac Arrest, alone, takes over 350,000 lives each year.  Learn the symptoms, know your history, know your body and do not ignore the warning signs.

Earlier this year I was rushed to the Emergency Room after having chest/back tightness and shortness of breath while out on a training run.  When I reached the hospital, my heart was beating at 300 beats per minute, otherwise known as Ventricular Fibrillation which is a life threatening arrhythmia that, if left untreated, almost always leads to Sudden Cardiac Arrest.   A doctor actually leaned over my gurney and told me I was being prepped for a “Cardioversion” or “Shock” as my heart could no longer continue beating like this.  Thankfully, my heart converted on its own to a normal sinus rhythm just before they were ready to administer the shock.  That was intense.  


After 2 months of hospital stays and a battery of tests I was diagnosed with a rare form of heart disease and told I would need an ICD or Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator implanted into my chest.  In the event that my heart rhythm would decide to go haywire and out of control the ICD would shock my heart back into its normal rhythm.  The hope, of course, is that the defibrillator will never need to do its job.

I’m sure a number of you have heard (or read) about a “person who collapsed at or near the finish line” of a race or even somewhere between miles 5-7, am I right?  “I” could have been that person this past weekend… I was cleared to walk, though I was no longer allowed to run or do exercise that raises my heart rate.  While walking with my husband, I had a very quick sensation that something felt “strange” and BOOM – it felt like something exploded in my chest!  I cried out in pain and dropped to my knees in tears and disbelief.  My husband had actually thought I pulled a muscle but the truth is – my defibrillator had just done its job and saved my life.  


Let me say that again: it SAVED my life.  

I found out that my heart had very quickly gone into Ventricular Fibrillation and my ICD was able to detect it and provide a shock within seconds.   Others who have been in my shoes have not been nearly as lucky.  CPR has to be started immediately with the hope that an AED (Automated Electronic Defibrillator) is either nearby or will arrive quickly via Police or EMT’s.   Beyond 12 minutes, the victim’s chance of survival is 2-5%. 

If you have even the slightest thought that something “doesn’t feel quite right,” I implore you to speak with your doctor and that you absolutely do not let them tell you it is anxiety without doing further testing.  If they will not listen, find a doctor that will.  If I didn’t trust my gut, I would not be here.   October is National Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month.  Please educate yourself, your friends and your loved ones and do not think it can’t happen to you…"


I was horrified to hear this story...and electric shock to her heart.  Can you even imagine?...but I was even more horrified to think about what could have happened if the defibrillator didn't do its job or if she didn't have one at all.

I know I'm not alone when I say that I am quite thankful that, when Friend was "feeling funny" about a year ago, she didn't ignore it.  She got checked out, her heart condition was discovered and she's alive to tell about it today.

October is Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month.  Please, please, please, educate yourselves and educate your loved ones.