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February is Heart Health Month

  • Published
  • By Rick Fleming
  • AEDC Safety

Each year we talk about February being Heart Health Month. There are always facts and figures designed as tools to grab our collective attention, so we are all motivated to get healthier. This year I want to start with an incident from Jan. 3 when a player collapsed on the field during Monday Night Football.

Twenty-four-year-old Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin had a cardiac arrest and collapsed after making a tackle. The team’s assistant athletic trainer realized the situation and immediately started CPR.

At the packed stadium and at home, we fans held our collective breaths while they performed CPR and used an automated external defibrillator to restart his heart.  

Later, the University of Cincinnati Medical Center made the statement, “It's safe to say the Buffalo Bills medical staff saved Damar Hamlin's life…Hamlin underwent CPR less than a minute after collapsing, the Bills staff performed resuscitation for nine minutes and used defibrillation.”  

Quick assessment of the situation and quick decisive action saved his life. As I write this article, he has visited the team and is now home and on the road to recovery. Simply amazing!

I have a couple of thoughts to share.

One, Hamlin is a professional athlete who was presumptively in excellent shape, but he still had a cardiac event. We do not know yet what caused this event, but if it can happen to one in his condition, how much more likely are we, being that many of us are older and not in as good of shape, to have a cardiac event?

Two, because he got immediate care, he had the chance to survive. Do you know CPR? Does anyone around you? Fortunately, we do have the advantage of EMS here on base.                                                                                                                                       

Each year in the United States, more than 350,000 people experience sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital, according to the American Heart Association. 

What is Cardiac Arrest?

Cardiac arrest is caused when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions and the heart stops beating properly. The heart’s pumping function is “arrested,” or stopped. Cardiac arrest may be caused by irregular heart rhythms called arrhythmias. One example would be ventricular fibrillation. In ventricular fibrillation, the heart’s lower chambers suddenly start beating chaotically and don’t pump blood. It can come on suddenly or in the wake of other symptoms. Cardiac arrest is often fatal if appropriate steps aren’t taken immediately.

What should I do?

 Cardiac arrest may be reversed if CPR is performed and a defibrillator shocks the heart so that a normal heart rhythm is restored within a few minutes.

What is the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest?

My doctor described it to me this way; cardiac arrest is an electrical problem and a heart attack is a plumbing problem.

What is a Heart Attack?

Heart attacks are caused by a blockage that stops blood flow to the heart. A heart attack refers to death of heart muscle tissue due to the loss of blood supply.  A heart attack is also quite serious and sometimes fatal.

Do you suspect someone is experiencing cardiac arrest? The signs according to the American Heart Association are:

  • Sudden loss of responsiveness – The person doesn’t respond, even if you tap them hard on the shoulders or ask loudly if they're ok. The person doesn’t move, speak, blink or otherwise react.
  • No normal breathing – The person isn’t breathing or is only gasping for air.

What should I do?

If you think the person may be suffering cardiac arrest and you're a trained lay rescuer:

  • Ensure the scene is safe.
  • Check for response.
  • Shout for help. Tell someone nearby to call 911. Ask that person or another bystander to bring you an automated external defibrillator, or AED, if there’s one on hand. On the base the ambulance will bring an AED. Time is critical. 
  • Check for no breathing or only gasping. If the person isn’t breathing or is only gasping, begin CPR with compressions.
  • Begin CPR. Push down at least two inches in the center of the chest at a rate of 100 to 120 pushes a minute. Allow the chest to come back up to its normal position after each push.
  • Use an AED. As soon as it arrives, turn it on and follow the prompts.
  • Continue CPR. Administer it until the person starts to breathe or move, or until someone with more advanced training, such as an EMS team member, takes over.

If you are not trained in CPR/AED use, consider enrolling in a class, you never know when you may be needed to save a life. Both the Red Cross and American Heart Association offer classes.

As far as your own health goes, be proactive, get annual checkups and follow doctors’ suggestions for the path that is best for you.  Take control of your health, it is never too late to influence your future. Keep moving, listen to your body and do not ignore symptoms. Take care of yourself and as always, take care of each other.