Sudden cardiac arrest is one of the more dangerous and often fatal cardiac events. This type of cardiac event occurs when the heart simply stops beating. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), approximately 95 percent of all people who suffer sudden cardiac arrest don’t survive long enough to make it to the hospital. When the heart stops beating, blood flow to the rest of the body begins to cease. Without the blood to act as a delivery boy, vital organs such as the brain and heart don’t receive the oxygen needed to survive. Brain death can begin in as little as 4 minutes after the heart stops. This is true whether the cause of the heart stoppage is the result of sudden cardiac arrest, an auto accident, drowning, or other source.
When it comes to a non-beating heart, minutes matter. The victim’s chance of survival goes down by more than 7 percent every minute that passes after the heart stops. Because damage happens so rapidly, it’s important to get the blood flowing as quickly as possible. This is often accomplished through the use of a defibrillator (electronic device that delivers an electric shock to restart the heart). The AHA indicated that immediate use of a defibrillator can increase your chance of survival by more than 30 percent. (Some estimates are as high as 45 percent.)
In the absence of a defibrillator, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can be used to manually stimulate the blood and oxygen flow until professional medical assistance can be obtained. CPR is a 50-year old technique that consists of a combination of chest compressions and “breaths”, or ventilation, performed as 30 compressions followed by two breaths. Even when CPR is immediately and properly administered, the survival rates still remain low. This is in part because traditional CPR only delivers approximately 25 percent of the blood and oxygen flow necessary to prevent brain and other damage to vital organs.
Because survivability rates are so poor, the medical profession is always looking for ways to improve the survival odds for those who suffer such a cardiac event.