The small town of Goodhue, Minnesota (pop. 900) made national news recently, when more than two dozen of its citizens engaged in a marathon CPR relay to save the life of a man who’d collapsed on the sidewalk. The group of concerned townsfolk performed CPR for more than an hour and a half before an emergency transport helicopter arrived to take the unconscious victim to a hospital. Remarkably, the patient not only survived but – as is rare in such cases – he apparently suffered no brain damage.
“It’s remarkable,” Bruce Wilkoff, MD, an electrophysiologist at the Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute, told USA Today. “It’s a great example of people doing the right thing and having it work out.”
The patient, Howard Snitzer, appears to have been the near-victim of sudden cardiac death, or SCD. According to Dr. Wilkoff, SDC is the leading cause of natural death in America, with more victims than AIDS, breast cancer, lung cancer or stroke added together.
“Sudden cardiac arrest is not a heart attack or myocardial infraction,” says Dr. Wilkoff. “It occurs when the electrical system to the heart suddenly produces a very irregular heart rhythm. The heart beats dangerously fast. The ventricles may flutter or quiver and blood is not delivered to the body.”
It frequently affects young and otherwise fit and healthy people. Snitzer, for instance, was 54, and had finished working only only a short time before his heart went into an abnormal rhythm.
Unfortunatly, not all victims of this disorder are as fortunate as Snitzer – who not only fell to the ground within sight of several people who were skilled in CPR, but lived within range of an excellent medical center.
Outside of a streeet in Goodhue, Minnesota, the best place to experience SCD is a facility equipped with a portable electrical defibrillator. These devices are easy to use, and can be found in more and more airports, fitness centers, schools and shopping centers. When properly deployed, they can shock a dangerously fibrillating heart back into a steady beat.
“If you have had a heart attack, have coronary artery disease or heart failure, ask your doctor about your risk of sudden cardiac arrest,” says Dr. Wilkoff. “Reducing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, quitting smoking and managing weight are often recommended. You should also know your ejection fraction. This tells us how well your heart pumps blood. If your ejection fraction is 35% or less you may also be at risk of sudden cardiac death.”
You can see a video of Dr. Wilkoff discussing SCD here.