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Columbus Looks To Improve Sudden Cardiac Arrest Survival Rate

May 23, 2019

Credit American Heart Association

Columbus firefighters will be teaching hands-only CPR this Friday in the Arena district.

The life-saving technique does not require traditional mouth-to-mouth, but can be just as effective at saving the life of someone experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.  The condition occurs when the heart abruptly and unexpectedly stops beating, halting blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. The hands-only CPR training is part of EMS week, but it also reflects a larger goal of increasing bystander engagement.  Mike Foley reports.

About two years ago, Kimber Perfect suffered sudden cardiac arrest while walking in downtown Columbus. 

"I had numerous bystanders who did jump to my aid," Perfect said. "But key was what fire fighter Snyder was coaching. As soon as he heard I was starting to turn blue, he said somebody needs to start compressions now - put your phone on speaker and I'll coach you through it. The gentleman who jumped in and started doing compressions, there was a certain point when he asked if he had to give mouth to mouth. He was told no, and I'm sure he was quite relieved at that."

Those compressions during the critical first few minutes prior to the arrival of EMS played a significant role in Perfect's survival. Medics used an AED three times to revive her. But not all instances of sudden cardiac arrest work that smoothly. According to the American Heart Association, more than 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside of a hospital setting each year in the U.S. Most of those are fatal. In Columbus, officials say there are about 600 annually with only a 12 percent survival rate. The city created the 30-member HeartSafe Columbus Taskforce to identify strategies to increase the chances of surviving sudden cardiac arrest. Columbus Division of Fire medical director Dr. David Keseg served as chair.  

"We need to identify sudden cardiac arrest as a public health epidemic," Dr. Keseg said. "Just like we engaged the public with Narcan that they could administer to opiate overdoses, so must we engage the public in utilizing the two things that have been proven to save a life in sudden cardiac arrest - early CPR and early defibrillation. Those are skills that can be taught to anyone."

Studies have shown that for every minute without CPR, the chance of surviving a sudden cardiac arrest drops 10 percent. Columbus Fire Battalion Chief Steve Martin says it's really about instilling awareness, confidence, and knowledge.  

"We want to make the steps of notifying 911, push hard push fast, and use and AED to be as memorable as stop, drop, and roll," Martin said. "We want people to know about hands-only CPR and that mouth to mouth is not necessary to save a life. We want to encourage everyone with a smart phone to download Pulse Point, a free app that will notify a person if they are near someone that needs help. We want everyone to know what an AED is and to know that they can use it as easily as a microwave oven."

The task force recommendations include partnering with area businesses, faith groups, and sports teams to train as many residents as possible. The Columbus Division of Police will also train all officers and civilian staff in hands-only CPR and eventually equip all cruisers with AEDs. It's unclear how much it would cost to implement the ideas. The task force recommended creating a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization. Keseg describes what the Columbus Heartmobile Foundation will do.  

"It's about expanding training in the general population for hands-only CPR, encouraging legislation that identifies and mandates target locations for AED placement, equipping our first responders and EMS personnel with the latest and most impactful training and innovations for treating victims of cardiac arrest, working with our hospital partners to ensure the best life-saving efforts, and developing key metrics to assess progress towards meeting these stated goals," Keseg said.   

The city has allocated $100,000 in funding to get it started. Columbus City Council member and Public Safety committee chair Mitch Brown    

"When I say I was involved in emergency medicine a long time ago, I was in Seattle in the 1970's," Brown reflected. "I remember what they were doing, and I was impressed. One in every four citizens in the city of Seattle knows CPR. One in every eight or nine citizens in the city of Columbus knows CPR. We have to improve on that number.”

Columbus fire fighters will be teaching hands-only CPR Friday from 11 am to 1 pm on the Front Street Plaza in front of Nationwide Arena. Residents who take part in the training can also receive kits that contain additional information about the lifesaving skills of CPR, AED awareness, and choking relief.