In Part I and Part II of our story with sudden cardiac arrest survivor Alex, we learned how the prompt actions of his wife and daughter led to his rescue and speedy recovery. In Part III, Alex shares learning lessons from his first-hand experience.
Alex is grateful for all who contributed to saving his life, including his family who found him unresponsive, setting into motion the chain-of-survival and for staying with him throughout his hospitalization. Finding himself in the unique position of being able to share post-SCA thoughts (90% of those who suffer SCA do not survive), he’s able to capture the mindshare of new groups for whom he can educate and share a few lessons from his experience. He’s learned that cardiac arrest is more common than people think; up to 360,000 people experience the phenomenon every year in the United States.
He’s also learned that many people confuse cardiac arrest with a heart attack. Since there are commonly symptoms before a heart attack and heart attacks can result from lifestyle choices, whereas this is not necessarily the case in cardiac arrest, this can lead to many harmful misperceptions about SCA. For instance, extreme situations can trigger a sudden cardiac arrest – sudden fright, dehydration, and exhaustion among others – and people who are not medically predisposed to having cardiac arrest may experience it when their “electrical signals get scrambled,” as Alex explained. Frustratingly, we frequently never learn exactly why someone goes into SCA.
“I think if they understood that it doesn’t take much for it, that would make people more sensitive to it,” he said.
“I think it also reinforced the fact that this is something you can actually intervene and fix.”
Quickly applying chest compressions and deploying an AED not only saves the life of a SCA victim, it also greatly impacts the life of the victim’s immediate family, relatives, and even seasoned first responders.
To honor those involved, the Alex attended a dinner organized by Palo Alto firefighters and met many of the men involved in resuscitating him, together with his family. He met with the firefighters who performed CPR on him and transported him to hospital. He brought his message of gratitude and the bond formed between patient and caregivers has resulted in lasting friendships.
Knowing what he knows now, when asked about his thoughts on AEDs, Alex shared that he thinks AEDs should be deployed everywhere to help reduce time-to-defibrillation and that communities should spread general awareness on how they are used. As of (year), California’s high school students are required to be trained in CPR and AEDs, a step in the right direction according to Alex.
As an engineer and self-described “technologist,” it frustrates Alex when he sees poorly run AED programs.
“I’ve definitely had situations where I’ve walked up to an AED case and looked in, and there’s nothing in the case, it’s been removed,” Alex recalled. “I guess the onus is on government agencies and schools and businesses that have these devices.” Alex looks forward to the day that AED units catch up with today’s technology and, together, they become easier to own and manage.
Lamenting on situations where the batteries are replaced and charged, Alex added that AED manufacturers should also do more to elongate the lifetime of the pads and batteries and other parts that give the defibrillator its functionality and require action long past the time of original purchase. To get more defibrillators into the public, Alex suggests that the government do more to make AEDs available to everyone so that anyone can deploy them if needed. “They should be as common as extra batteries, car jumper cables, phone chargers, or any handy thing you can keep in your car’s glove box.”
“If you’re able to do CPR and set up an AED and initiate a shock within a couple minutes and that person still unconscious, but at least their heart is beating, you’ve done the lion’s share of the work,” Alex submitted.
Note: while this account and all quotes used in this series are real, the victim’s name and the name of all other parties involved have been changed to protect the privacy of the victim and his family.