Every year, around 2,000 people in New Zealand suffer a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Tragically, 90% of those people do not survive. Fortunately, improving these odds lies in our hands – the hands of everyday people. Here’s some important information on SCA and how you can help build a heart safe community.
What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
If you watch medical dramas, you’re probably already familiar with SCA. The heart monitor sends out an alarm, the patient suddenly falls unconscious, and the medical team perform CPR and use a defibrillator to shock their heart to restore a normal heart rhythm. It’s very dramatic, but it doesn’t tell you exactly what’s happening during a SCA.
Our hearts contract and relax at a pace designed to effectively pump oxygenated blood around our bodies as we go about our day, and this heart rhythm is set by the organ’s internal electrical system. Sometimes, something can go wrong with this system, causing a reaction where the heart goes into a fluttering spasm called ventricular fibrillation. This causes the person to suddenly collapse and fall unconscious (become unresponsive). You won’t be able to feel their pulse and they will either stop breathing or breathe ineffectively, a gasping, clucking sound called agonal breathing.
SCA can occur in anyone, of any age, at any time, with little to no warning – even in people who appear fit and healthy. It can also occur as a result of trauma, electrocution, drowning, choking or medical conditions such as a heart attack.
Why Do So Few People Survive SCA?
Because SCA causes the heart to stop sending oxygenated blood to the brain and organs, tissues start dying in a very short period – around 3-4 minutes after the SCA occurs. CPR will help extend this window, known as the Survival Gap, but it cannot work indefinitely. The only way to treat SCA is to use a defibrillator to shock the heart, supplying an electrical shock that can potentially reset the heart and restore a normal rhythm.
Because the window for treating a patient with SCA is so narrow, ambulances and trained emergency personnel are very unlikely to reach them in time. In New Zealand, the average time it takes an ambulance to reach a patient is 8 minutes in cities and 13 minutes in rural or remote areas.
How Can I Help?
There is some good news, however – each and every one of us has the power to assist someone in SCA, providing care and treatment within the Survival Gap that can potentially save a life. According to research, assistance from bystanders (including providing CPR and supplying defibrillation) can double chances of survival from SCA – in fact, early assistance by bystanders is one of the single most important factors in the Chain of Survival, not only significantly improving survival rates but also helping to supply assistance rapidly to limit permanent brain and organ damage.
Although this is a serious medical event, assisting as a bystander is simpler than you think – when you have the knowledge, training and equipment. Being able to recognise SCA, perform CPR effectively and use a simple, safe defibrillator like the CellAED® can potentially save the lives of your family members, co-workers and community.
Join Our Free Defibrillator Training Program to Fight SCA
DefibsPlus is a leading provider of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) that are affordable, easy to use with minimal training, and portable. Ideal for homes, offices, schools and even campgrounds, the CellAED® is small enough to take with you wherever you go. In addition, we also offer free training through our HeartSmart program, teaching you, your family and co-workers the skills you need to potentially save a life.