Cardiac Arrest Tool Comes Home


(Author By Melissa Tennen) A perfectly blue sky gazed down on Lee Curtes as he lay dying. Then, his chest quieted, and his mind closed. But he was jolted back. Only a few minutes had passed.

A device called a defibrillator helped save his life. Curtes, 57, was suffering from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) while skiing with his wife and friends in Vail, Colo.

“Without the defibrillator, all of the high technology wouldn’t have gotten utilized because I would have been a corpse,” Curtes says.

Curtes was saved by a defibrillator carried by the ski area’s rescue team. Today Curtes keeps one at his home in Hartford, Wis. For the first time, people at risk of cardiac arrest can buy defibrillators for their homes.

It’s similar to the one you see on television where the doctor straps paddles to a patient’s chest and yells, “Clear.” But the HeartStart┬« home defibrillator, the most recent version of the technology, is designed for home use. The device’s interface allows even untrained people to use it successfully on someone having a SCA. In November of 2002, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the go-ahead to Philips Electronics to market the HeartStart product for home use.

“The only way we are going to improve survival is by deploying defibrillators everywhere,” says David Freeman, vice president of cardiology marketing at Philips.

This version is important because most SCAs — 70 percent — take place in the home as opposed to public areas such as airplanes and malls, which already have such devices. Already, there are 100,000 Philips defibrillators being used throughout the world.

Emergency help, which includes using the defibrillator, may take about six minutes to arrive. That’s precious time lost, because a person suffering a SCA only has a 10-minute window for survival. With every passing minute, the chance of survival drops 10 percent. And every two minutes, someone in the United States experiences an SCA.

“It doesn’t guarantee survival. But it does offer someone a fighting chance,” says Gust H. Bardy, M.D., a clinical professor of medicine and attending physician at the University of Washington Medical Center.

Even children can use the device without any CPR training. A study in Circulation: The Journal of the American Heart Association found automated defibrillators were easy enough for sixth graders to use after one minute of instruction. It only took them 30 seconds longer than a trained professional.

Unlike a heart attack, which is caused by blockage in the artery, SCA is an electrical malfunction of the heart that causes the heart to quiver in an uncontrollable fashion. When this happens, little or no blood is pumped from the heart. The person loses consciousness very quickly and unless the condition is reversed, death follows in a matter of minutes. SCA kills 220,000 people a year.

Risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest include age (45 and older), smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise. However, most SCA victims have never shown any prior symptoms of heart disease. This is true for 50 percent of the men and 63 percent of women who die from SCA.

HeartStart is relatively small – about the size of a hardcover book – and it’s portable. But it can set you back $2,300 – and may not be paid for by health insurance plans.

“People rise to the occasion in that extraordinary moment and save someone’s life,” Freeman, the Philips spokesman, says.

External Resources

American Heart Association
Heart Information Network
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