Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Fragility of Life – Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA)


By Rosey Gilliam, MD
Clinical Professor, Division of Cardiology, University of North Carolina School of Medicine
Clinical Physician, UNC Center for Heart and Vascular Care

The fragility of our hold on life cannot be overstated as the recent death of the pilot in the United Airlines flight from Houston to Seattle illustrated.  The sudden death while at his post underscores the rapidity which symptoms may progress.  

October is recognized as Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) awareness month.  This is a time to focus on the number one cause of death in this country.  SCA occurrence is so prevalent that it would require the combined numbers of ALL cancers to exceed the number of deaths due to SCA this year in the United States.  

For years, we were ill equipped to identify those at risk, and we could do little to alter the inevitable.  We now know many of the predisposing features of SCA.  This knowledge, coupled with effective treatments, offer the potential to save tens of thousands every year.  Essential for the ongoing treatment is the emergence of the Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) and the Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD).  These devices are capable of delivering a lifesaving shock to the heart, akin to the shocks delivered by rescue squads depicted on TV.  The awareness of this treatment and its utilization is critical if we are to save countless lives.  

The tragic event on United Flight 1603 gives us all an opportunity to consider our individual ability to save the life of someone who experiences sudden cardiac arrest.  Full details of the events on this flight are not elaborated in the press, but we should all be aware of the presence of an automatic external defibrillator (AED) on EVERY airplane, which offers the potential of a lifesaving shock to the heart.  We should all become aware in our surroundings the available AED units in schools, malls, churches and other public locations as we cannot predict the moment we may be pressed into service.  Someone’s life may depend on our knowledge of the location and use of an AED. 

I wonder what were the initial thoughts in attempting to assist the captain of Flight 1603?  We live in a technically-diverse community, and we owe it to our neighbors to be aware of the many things that can improve our collective existence.  The saving of a life is undoubtedly the most neighborly gift we can offer.  I am hopeful that this October, many people will gain awareness of Sudden Cardiac Arrest and the importance of the measures available to save a life.  The next life saved might be mine.

This AED is in the main entrance of MacNider Hall on the campus of the University of North Carolina. An AED can be found in every UNC School of Medicine building on campus.
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Thursday, September 26, 2013

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