Cardiac Arrest

Ann Lima, MDBy Dr. Ann Lima


According to the American Heart Association 436,000 Americans die each year from cardiac arrest.

Cardiac arrest is NOT a heart attack. Cardiac arrest is when the heart is not beating at all, or beating in a way not compatible with life. Someone suffering a cardiac arrest is unconscious, does not have a pulse, and is either not breathing or breathing very irregularly. A cardiac arrest is a problem with the electrical system of the heart which prevents pumping of blood to the brain, lungs and other organs.

Cardiac arrest survival was 9.1% in 2022 for those events that occurred outside of a hospital and treated by EMS (2023 AHA Statistical Update). This survival can be increased with early, high-quality cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation (shocks). It is important to recognize a cardiac arrest and activate emergency response. In Clearwater County we now have an emergency dispatch system to help bystanders calling 911 to recognize the signs of a cardiac arrest and give instructions to start CPR with an emphasis on chest compressions. After starting compressions, the next most important step is finding and using an automated external defibrillator (AED). AEDs are found in some public buildings and with many of our law enforcement and first responder vehicles. We also rely on advanced efforts by EMS and hospital providers to provide post-cardiac arrest care when we successfully get a normal heart rhythm back.

We had a recent success which highlights how this chain of survival can work. In April, 911 was called and emergency dispatch recognized a cardiac arrest and advised the family to remove the patient from a vehicle and bystanders started CPR. Clearwater County Sheriff’s Office brought an AED to the scene and provided rapid defibrillation. The Quick Response Unit from Clearwater County came with EMS providers and more equipment, followed by the ambulance and more providers, and then transported the patient to Clearwater County Hospital, who by then had a pulse, and was then transferred to a higher level of care and eventually discharged home.

Remember that recognition and activation of emergency response, early CPR focusing on high quality compressions, and rapid defibrillation are keys to out-of-hospital cardiac arrest care survival. Consider getting trained in CPR or refreshing your skills. Find out where the nearest AED is located and coordinate getting one in your place of work or businesses and locations you frequently visit.