Getting to the heart of the matter
Far too many Americans die of cardiac arrest.
That’s the bad news. The good news: Some heavy hitters, including schools, have taken steps to improve survival rates.
Getting everyone’s attention is one giant step, and we hope a major new report released recently will do just that.
About 395,000 people suffer cardiac arrests in their homes or non-hospital settings each year, the Institute of Medicine reported, and less than 6 percent of them survive.
An additional 200,000 cardiac arrests happen in hospitals ever y year, but even there only 25 percent — 1 in 4 — survive, the report said.
“Cardiac arrest is not a heart attack — it’s worse,” Associated Press medical writer Lauran Neergaard tells us. “It means the heart abruptly stops beating, its electrical activity knocked out of rhythm. CPR can buy critical time if it’s started immediately, but this report concludes the nation must take key steps to give victims a better shot.”
Cardiac arrest survival rates are “unacceptably low,” said Dr. Robert Graham of George Washington University, who chaired the IOM committee’s investigation. Those rates are lousy, he might have said, largely because too few Americans respond in emergencies.
Why don’t they respond? Neergaard tells us the IOM committee blames “fear, not understanding what cardiac arrest is, lack of first-aid training and concern about legal liability [which] can hamper response and cost precious time.”
“What to do may sound straightforward,” Neergaard reported. “Call 911, and then start quick, hard compressions of the person’s chest until trained responders arrive. If a device called an AED — an automated external defibril- lator — is available, use it.”
A most telling statistic: Each year, less than 3 percent of the U.S. population receives training in CPR or defibrillator use, while some European countries mandate training, the IOM report found.
Mounting a major public education effort to teach people how to recognize and react to cardiac arrest is one of several IOM recommendations.
Fortunately, that effort is well underway. Maryland and 23 other states have made CPR training a high school graduation requirement. In 2014, Maryland enacted “Breanna’s Law,” named for a Maryland high school field hockey player saved by CPR. It mandates response training for graduation. That training continues to be covered in students’ physical education and health class in Charles County.
For adults interested in more information about CPR/AED training, the American Red Cross is the go-to agency. It’s reachable online at redcross. org or by telephone at 1-800-733-2767 (nationally) or 301-934-2066 in Southern Maryland.
The Red Cross even offers an online course in CPR/AED that provides essentials, although not the scope of a hands-on course. For more, visit email@example.com.
We recommend training wholeheartedly, knowing that responding to an arrest could save a loved one as well as a total stranger.
Meanwhile, our nation needs to create a culture where “if someone collapses in front of you with cardiac arrest, it’s your obligation to help,” said Dr. Robert W. Neumar, an American Heart Association committee chairman.
“Perfect care” isn’t necessary for a responder, said one IOM committee member.
“Any CPR and an early defibrillation delivered by the public is better than no care at all,” he said.
Doing nothing can be a fatal mistake.