When a person has sudden cardiac arrest, every second is critical. Without the proper treatment, the chance of survival is minimal.
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is so important as it temporarily causes blood to flow long enough for the patient to reach Saint Francis’ emergency department and receive lifesaving treatment.
Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart enters a rhythm where it cannot keep blood flowing, such as ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation. With ventricular tachycardia, the heart beats irregularly so it cannot fill adequately, stopping blood flow to the rest of the body. With ventricular fibrillation, the heart beats so fast that it quivers and prevents blood from reaching the rest of the body.
If the brain is deprived of oxygen-rich blood for four minutes, it suffers irreversible damage. But damage can occur much sooner than that, depending on the situation.
While CPR is important, another key tool is an automated external defibrillator (AED), a portable device used to restore a regular heart rhythm during sudden cardiac arrest. Many public places, including churches, libraries and schools, have bought AEDs.
“When someone suffers a catastrophic event, you have a very short window of time to help him or her,” says Duc T. Nguyen, DO, interventional cardiologist, Saint Francis Medical Partner. “AEDs are easy to use and can help increase survival after cardiac arrest.”
One of the main treatments for sudden cardiac arrest is hypothermia, or cooling. “We lower the body’s core temperature, slowing down the metabolic processes and minimizing damage until the patient can recover,” says Nguyen. “Then, we put the patient on a ventilator for a couple of days and slowly begin the rewarming process. The key is to get the patient here right away so we can begin immediate treatment.”