Sudden Cardiac Arrest - Experience

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Introduction to sudden cardiac arrest

A natural disaster hits, the power goes off and the lights go out. It's a common scene that plays out during hurricane and tornado seasons, and it's very similar in trying to explain sudden cardiac arrest. The heart sustains an insult, the electricity is short circuited, the heart can't pump, and the body dies.

The heart is an electrical pump, where the electricity is generated in special pacemaker cells in the upper chamber, or atrium, of the heart. This electrical spark is carried through pathways in the heart so that all the muscle cells contract at once and produce a heart beat. This pumps blood through the heart valves and into all the organs of the body so that they can do their work.

This mechanism can break down in a variety of ways, but the final pathway in sudden death is the same: the electrical system is irritated and fails to produce electrical activity that causes the heart to beat. The heart muscle can't supply blood to the body, particularly the brain, and the body dies. Ventricular fibrillation (V Fib) is the most common reason for sudden death in patients. Without a coordinated electrical signal, the bottom chambers of the heart (ventricles) stop beating and instead, jiggle like Jello. Ventricular Fibrillation is treated with electrical shock, but for it to be effective, the shock usually needs to happen within less than four to six minutes, not only for it to be effective, but also to minimize brain damage from lack of blood and oxygen supply. Automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) are commonly available in public places to allow almost anybody to treat sudden death. Less commonly, the heart can just stop beating. The absence of a heart beat is known as asystole (asystole: a=no + systole=beat).

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Comment from: skynurse, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: February 28

I experienced a SCA (sudden cardiac arrest) on 4/29/13. I was relaxing on my bed and became very anxious and short of breath. My son was in his room and all I remember is saying to him "911". Five days later I came off the ventilator and was brought out of the deep sleep they kept me in. I continue to struggle with depression and the fear of it happening again. My saving grace was my son being home and immediately starting CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). As a nurse and SCA survivor, I can"t stress the importance of everyone learning CPR.

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Comment from: vic, 55-64 Male (Patient) Published: December 23

I had cardiac arrest in April 2006. They tried CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) for three minutes, couldn't bring me back and I was turning purple. They used AED (automated external defibrillator), shocked me once and brought me back. When I had the arrest I was on a spin cycle, fell off and injured my left calf. It swelled up the blood chamber and they had to drain my left calf first before I could have open heart surgery so I could walk for recovery or get out of bed. I had 5 arteries blocked so they couldn't do a stent and it had to be open heart quadruple. I was in hospital for 10 days and off work for 3 months, a financial disaster. Those people at my club saved my life, I would have been brain dead they say, if it had taken another 2 minutes. I get very depressed and sexually I'm not as active because of my age and medicine. I take three medicines. They took a vein from my right leg and one from the chest area to supply more blood to my heart. My right leg has low blood flow, so it cramps up and my legs are weak, and I feel fatigued most of the time because of bad sleep, etc. I could have blood clots in my right calf and I am seeing a venous surgeon soon.

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