Ten minutes can mean the difference between life and death

It is a startling statistic, but one in four Americans in his or her lifetime will encounter someone who needs cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Every day in America, nearly 1,000 people experience cardiac arrest – at home, at work, or in the grocery store – their hearts stop beating. Without immediate assistance, these people will not survive.

Cardiac arrest is often caused by ventricular fibrillation, which is a malfunction in the heart’s electrical system. Nearly 360,000 people were victims of cardiac arrest outside of the hospital last year. Of them, fewer than 10 percent survived. Cardiac arrest the leading cause of death among Americans.

While a heart attack may be the underlying cause of cardiac arrest, these conditions are very different. A heart attack is usually caused by a blockage that prevents blood from reaching the heart muscle while a cardiac arrest is a total cessation of a heartbeat. The causes of this “electrical malfunction” may include:

  • Thickening of the heart muscle
  • Heart valve disorders
  • Heart rhythm disorders

Because of the complexities of the underlying causes of cardiac arrest, it can happen to anyone at any time. In 2012, the American Heart Association reported that up to10,000 children suffer from cardiac arrest each year.

Athletes, though known for their cardiovascular health, are not excluded from the risk. Most of the incidences of sudden death among athletes are the result of cardiac arrest. In the majority of these cases, the athlete went into cardiac arrest during a highly physical competition or intensive training.

When a person’s heart stops, regardless of where they are, the chance of survival decreases seven to 10 percent for every minute that the heart is not beating.

You only have 10 minutes. If it’s up to you, will you know what to do?

Time is of the essence. If you do nothing but wait for help to arrive or if you go to find someone to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, precious minutes are lost. After 10 minutes with no heartbeat, the person may not survive cardiac arrest. However, CPR can change that – it may double or triple a person’s chance of survival.

Because 88 percent of cardiac arrests happen at home, you may save the life of someone you love.

If you are faced with a cardiac arrest emergency, Dial 911 and take action – start chest compressions.

Lay the unconscious person face-up on a firm surface. Kneel next to the person’s head and shoulders and place the heel of one hand on the chest between the person’s nipples. Lace your fingers and put the palm of your second on the back of your first hand.

Keeping your elbows straight and shoulders above your hands, push down using your upper body weight – push down hard and fast about twice each second. Continue chest compressions until the person moves or until help arrives.

"There are just three things that you need to do," said Michael D. Curtis, MD, emergency medicine physician on staff at Ministry Saint Michael’s Hospital in Stevens Point. "Dial 911, perform chest compressions – fast and hard and continuously – and then shock the heart when an AED becomes available."

An AED is an electronic device that automatically detects heart rhythms and determines if the victim is in need of a life-saving shock to restore normal heart rhythm. Even untrained bystanders can successfully use AEDs thanks to user-friendly, step-by-step audio and visual instructions.

Though AED devices are designed deliver shocks only to victims in need, most states have offer legal liability protection for bystanders administering the AED device.

"You only have 10 minutes," said Dr. Curtis. "We need citizens who know what do during cardiac arrest events because EMS services may not arrive in time. It's simple. It can literally save a life .... and it's something that anyone can do."

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