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: 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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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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