Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Mantua, UT(Zone 4b)

Sudden Cardiac Arrest is the tragedy we have been hearing about where healthy athletes die while playing sports. It can happen to older people, too. Many of them are caused by a condition called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy.

I work in a small Emergency Room where we have 1 doctor and 2 nurses. One of our doctors, who is in his 40's, is a fitness nut and participates in competetive biking. He lives 80 miles from the hospital and rides his bike to and from work 1 to 2 times a week.

One afternoon he was seeing a patient when I heard a crash. The patient started yelling that the doctor was on the floor. I ran toward him and yelled for the other nurse. It looked like he was having a seizure and was turned on his side. His face was absolutely PURPLE. He was breathing very deeply and rapidly at first but that soon became a gasp. He was moving so much I couldn't tell if he had a pulse. We called a CODE BLUE.

Two nurses and a doctor came within seconds and put him on a stretcher that we rolled into the Trauma Room. The Respiratory Therapist who responded was giving him oxygen. The patches were hooked to the defibrillator and I saw the strangest coarse Ventricular Fibrillation I have ever seen. I shocked him and saw his body lift off the bed. He then went into a slow, but normal rhythm with a pulse.

We have been thinking that he only lived because this happened in the ER a few feet from a defibrillator. He now has an internal defibrillator that will shock his heart if it happens again.

Later, we heard about a man who started CPR on his wife when he heard her gasp while sleeping. He called 911 and was able to keep her blood circulating until the Paramedics could arrive and shock her. She is alive because he simply knew and performed effective CPR.

Please take a CPR class if you are able to do so. The rules are much simpler than they used to be. You don't even have to breathe for the patient--just keep the blood circulating and call 911. Look up the new guidelines on the internet. You just might save a life.

Victoria, TX(Zone 9b)

So how do you know if you've got a problem?

Any prevention, or just "hope for the best"?

Mantua, UT(Zone 4b)

The signs our doctor had were the near-fainting episodes and the irregular heart rate. These symptoms can be pretty common for some people, but for the doctor it was a warning.

He thinks that all athletes should have a screening that would include an echocardiogram. I'm not sure what else. Apparently it was suggested here in Utah, but the people in charge of athletics think it is too expensive and that it is good enough to for them to know if there is a suspicious family history.

Our doctor got a letter from a family who thinks it would be a good idea to do the screening. Their son was an Emergency Room doctor in California who was very physically active and healthy. He went for a run one day and died when he arrived back at home. They were visiting Utah and saw the story on television about Barry and just had to write to tell him how lucky he is to be alive.

Victoria, TX(Zone 9b)

So the take-home message is parents of athletic teens and college-age, should be taking their kids to a doctor for an annual physical, suggesting an ekg and/or echocardiogram, as a pre-screening every so often.


Mantua, UT(Zone 4b)

I am not an expert on this subject--only a witness of what can happen if you have it. It is my understanding that an EKG can show a thickening of the heart muscle but won't accurately diagnose Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. An echocardiogram will show that there is a thickening of the muscle between the lower chambers of the heart and a thickening of the outer wall of the left ventricle. This causes a smaller amount of blood to be stored in the left ventricle. The thickening between the ventricles can also cause a blockage of blood flow and can interfere with the eletrical conduction in the heart.

It is unlike the usual heart attack where there is a blockage in a coronary artery or perhaps a spasm in the artery. It is a sudden event where the heart just starts to quiver instead of pump. It is a genetic problem.

There are other genetic problems like Long QT syndrome that could be picked up on an EKG and it can also be deadly.

By the way, a spasm in the coronary artery can be caused from cocaine use.

Google Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy and Hypertophic Cardiomyopathy Symptoms. Like I say, I am NOT an expert. I am an ER nurse who watched a frightening and potentially dealy event that can be prevented.

This message was edited Jul 12, 2011 8:39 AM

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