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: Gerry, 55-64 Male (Patient) Published: February 11

I had sudden cardiac arrest at about 8:00 PM on a Saturday night in March 2013. I was sitting in my recliner watching television. My wife was upstairs frosting a cake and heard some strange noises. She found me unresponsive. She got my son who was home from college that weekend. He started CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) while my wife called 911. A policeman with an AED (automated external defibrillator) was right around the corner. He shocked me 4 or 5 times and my heart restarted. I got shocked 2 more times in the ambulance. They didn't like my chances at the hospital. They told my wife that if I lived I was not going home after the hospital. Some rehabilitation would be required. It was estimated I was out 10 minutes. The doctors decided to chill me. I woke up Tuesday morning pretty much in one piece. I remember nothing from about 4 hours before it happened until I woke up Tuesday. I got an ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator) on Wednesday and went home on Saturday. I did not have high blood pressure or any blockage. Fifteen years of EKGs showed only a left bundle branch block. It turned out that I had obstructive and central sleep apnea. My wife had been telling me of my loud snoring, gasping for breath and twitching at night. If anybody tells you this, get a sleep study right away. You don't get much luckier than me. Except for a couple of minor restrictions, I have resumed my normal life.

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Comment from: Tigerkc67, 45-54 Male (Patient) Published: July 26

On May 11, 2015 at 9 am I experienced sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). I had returned to work at from my break and was talking with my co-worker. He said I looked back at him, gave a smile then just collapsed. At first he thought I was joking, then realized I was not breathing. He yelled for a manager who happened to be a retired navy nurse. It was a few minutes from the time I went down till she began CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). They called 911 and EMTs (emergency medical technicians) arrived 12 minutes later. They shocked me 5 times, then got a weak pulse so then rushed me out to ambulance where I crashed again. They continued CPR and shocking until hospital. There they continued until they got me started again. I was told I was clinically dead for 30 plus minutes and shocked over 20 times. They immediately started therapeutic hypothermia lowering my core temperature to 91 for 24 hours, and then warming me up. Upon warming up I had total kidney failure, liver took a huge hit, pneumonia and ammonia levels went sky high. I was in ICU for 18 days of which I was unresponsive for 14. After 7 days they took me off of sedation but I never became responsive until day 15. I could squeeze fingers but that was all for my responsiveness. After 17 days they gave me a tracheotomy. On day 18 I was transferred to a specialty hospital. There I slowly regained consciousness. I also found out while in ICU I obtained a stage 2 on left buttock and stage 4 ulcer on right which needed immediate surgery. I was in specialty hospital for 1 month and learned how to walk again with walker. I was released home with home healthcare for pressure ulcer wound care. I was back to work within two months. After seeing two cardiologists with stress tests, heart catheter and other tests, they stated they cannot find what might have caused the SCA. I was told I have a strong healthy heart with minimum plaque build-up, less than someone normal with my age. They also used the word fluke to describe what happened. It was not until after I saw a rhythm specialist and 7 months later did I get my ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator). I'm seeing a therapist for depression and PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) from the event. I'm scared sometimes to be alone not knowing. To this day, no one can tell my why. Just that it happened for some reason or the signal to your heart just turned off. It's been over a year and I've been healthy ever since. I do have anoxic brain injury but they don't know to what extent. I love life.

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