Where We Live: Sudden Cardiac Arrest

More than 350,000 people die from SCA each year.

Jerry Wong (Flickr Creative Commons)
Where We Live: Sudden Cardiac Arrest
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Where We Live: Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Each year more than 350,000 Americans die from Sudden Cardiac Arrest – that’s more than the total death rate for breast cancer, lung cancer, HIV/AIDS, motor vehicle accidents, and violent traumatic events combined.

Health officials say widespread public access to Automated External Defibrillators or AEDs...small easy-to-use devices, could drastically reduce the death rate.

So why aren’t they more accessible?

Today we’ll talk to a Cardiac Specialist and the director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at The George Washington University Hospital, who has spent much of the past year drafting the Cardiac Arrest Survival Act, which was just introduced to Congress last week by Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX). If passed, the bill would provide a uniform baseline of Good Samaritan protection on a federal level.

And we’ll hear from a Hamden resident who survived Sudden Cardiac Arrest, thanks to the efforts of strangers who did more than just dial 911.

Today's program was produced with assistance from Amy Talit. 



350,000 Preventable Annual Deaths From Sudden Cardiac Arrests

Don’t worry about the science (the hard part) - it is already done. In fact, 12 international studies clearly indicate that Cambridge Heart’s Microvolt T-Wave Alternans test identifies individuals at high risk of sudden cardiac death. This test does not take long; it is non-invasive, CMS/Private Insurance covered, FDA approved, and relatively inexpensive (about $200). Unfortunately, for some reason this test is not being provided to heart patients. As a result, about 850 people die everyday from sudden cardiac death.

In addition, to add insult to injury, 21% of the defibrillators that are implanted are unnecessary, according to a recent JAMA study. Another study, this one conducted by Columbia University a few years ago, determined that 30% of the 170,000 ICD’s were uncalled for. Since each defibrillator costs about $65,000, and there were over 50,000 unnecessarily installed, this amounts to a waste of over $3.2 billion.

Listener Email

I hope you will share this suggestion re: the location of AEDs with your audience: in 2004, my husband and our family lost his beloved 44 year-old brother, who was in superb physical condition, when he “dropped dead” in the middle of an adult league basketball game in an elementary school gymnasium due to an undiagnosed case of hypertropic cardiomyopathy. Though his teammates immediately did CPR, the emergency team did not arrive in time with the AED. The sad fact is that there was an AED locked in the nurse’s office, but no one knew it was there. His friends would have happily broken in to save his life. The message is, the AEDs must be located in a visible and accessible place to serve their purpose, and the fact that they are there must be clearly marked.


Listener Email

I survived sudden cardiac arrest two years ago. I dropped dead on a NYC subway train on my way home from work. I was gone for just under 30 minutes.

Luckily, a cardiology fellow from NY Presbyterian Hospital was in the train car and, along with another person, they performed around 2600 chest compressions on me until the train reached the 59th St/Columbus Circle station and got access to an AED.

After two attempts with the AED, I woke up again with no brain damage. I was admitted to NY Presbyterian for about a week during which I had an ICD implanted in my chest.

The NY Times did a great story on me at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/fashion/08GENB.html?pagewanted=all

I feel very, very fortunate to still be alive.

In the Times article, it is stated that there are 143 train stations in Manhattan and only 5 stations have AEDs. I think that is way too few.

The doctors believe I went into SCA due to some scarring on my heart from an earlier, unknown silent heart attack I experienced. They think the scar tissue probably threw off the rhythm of my heart.

I'm finding your show this morning very interesting and informative. Thank you for covering the topic.

Listener Email

The call about the person dying in buildings with AEDs is not uncommon. We are working to integrate information from the National AED Registry (www.nationalaedregistry.com) a free AED management program designed to help people make sure their AEDs are working into dispatch so that the 911 operator could tell the caller, “I see there’s an AED in the coaches office; is there someone with you that can go get it.”

If the response to SCA on scene is to call 911, the goal must be to provide nearby AED information to the caller via the 911 system.

Elliot R. Fisch
President/CEO - Atrus, Inc.