The Healthy Dose

Expert insights from UArizona Health Sciences

CPR and AEDs Save Lives, Especially Young Healthy Athletes

teen twoWe’ve learned a great deal about improving survival rates and quality of life for sudden cardiac arrest patients, and the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center Resuscitation Research Group has been at the forefront. While we’ve known for decades that sudden cardiac arrest can strike anyone at anytime at any age, it continues to startle me to think of sudden cardiac arrest striking a healthy, young athlete. Yet, this happens more often than we think and it’s where we see some of the greatest successes.

Recent data has shown markedly improved outcomes with use of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) at youth and college sporting events. So much so that the USA Football Foundation recently stated that all youth athletic programs should strongly consider having an AED on site for practices and games.

During 2000 to 2006 when AEDs were uncommon, long-term sudden cardiac survival rates were only about 11 percent at youth and college sporting events. In 2013, as AEDs became more available, the survival rate reached a remarkable 71 percent, with AEDs used in 85 percent of sudden cardiac arrest cases.

AEDAEDs have the capacity to rapidly resuscitate people suffering from ventricular fibrillation cardiac arrest and can be deployed by lay public rescuers as well as professional emergency responders. Minutes count and the presence of an AED can be the difference between not only life and death, but importantly resuming a high-quality of life with normal brain function for victims of sudden cardiac arrest.

In Southern Arizona we are fortunate to have the Steven M. Gootter Foundation as a partner in the fight against this often unexpected and untimely killer of both participants and spectators of sporting events. We believe no one should have to wait unnecessarily for proven, life-saving defibrillation therapy in today’s world where AED technology exists. At the UA Sarver Heart Center, we have seen remarkable saves with good long-term outcomes among high school, university, and adult sports participants suffering sudden cardiac arrest when an AED is present and utilized quickly. Our personal experience with successful AED use for sport-related cardiac arrest includes:

  • a 40-year-old masters swimmer at UA Hillenbrand Aquatic Center
  • a 50-year-old tennis player at Tucson Racquet Club
  • a 15-year-old high school marching band member at University High
  • a 45-year-old high school soccer referee

appAll are doing well, having returned to all their previous activities, including work and school.  Rarely is that the case when an AED is not immediately available on site.

So, during CPR and AED Awareness Week, do what you can to be prepared in case you witness a sudden cardiac arrest. Visit the Sarver Heart Center “Learn CPR” page to learn how to recognize sudden cardiac arrest and how to respond. (Share these resources with your family and friends, too!) Also, download the Pulse Point app that was brought to Southern Arizona with support from the Gootter Foundation. This app will give you an alert when you’re in the immediate vicinity of a cardiac emergency. It will tell you where help is needed and the location of a nearby AED. 

Another good thing to remember are the 3 C's to Save a Life

Check… Call… Compress in Cases of Sudden Cardiac Arrest

If you see someone collapse unexpectedly this is usually the result of cardiac arrest. Studies have shown that by doing chest compressions only, without mouth-to-mouth breathing, bystanders increase the person’s chance of survival. Follow these three steps to perform Chest-Compression-Only Resuscitation:

  1. Check for responsiveness - Shake the person and shout, “Are you OK?”
  2. Call - Direct someone to call 9-1-1 or make the call yourself if the person is unresponsive and struggling to breathe (gasping or snoring).
  3. Compress - Begin forceful chest compressions at a rate of 100 per minute. Position the victim back down on the floor.  Place the heel of one hand on top of the other and place the heel of the bottom hand on the center of the victim’s chest.  Lock your elbows and compress the chest forcefully; make sure you lift up enough to let the chest recoil.

heart graphicIf an AED (heart with lightening flash symbol) is available, turn the unit on and follow the voice instructions. If no AED (automated external defibrillator) is available, perform chest compressions continuously until the paramedics arrive. This is physically tiring so if someone else is available, take turns after each 100 chest compressions.

If you suspect drowning or drug overdose, follow standard CPR procedures (alternate 30 chest compressions with two mouth-to-mouth breaths).

Remember, #CPRsaveslives!

About the Author: Karl B. Kern, MD, is a co-director and the Gordon A. Ewy, MD Distinguished Endowed Chair of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center, and professor of medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine - Tucson.  . . . more