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Preparing for cardiac arrest at sea

Jan 1, 2003
From Ocean Navigator #103
January/February 2000
Each year roughly 350,000 Americans die as a result of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Unless attended to immediately, someone whose heart has stopped will likely die, regardless of whether CPR is performed. If, however, the victim is assisted by someone trained in CPR and equipped with an Automated External Defibrillator (AED), chances of surviving SCA can increase to more than 90%, according to U.S. Search and Rescue, a non-profit outreach and response organization.

Because of the high likelihood of surviving sudden cardiac arrest if treated with an AED, Scott Steele, CEO of U.S. Search and Rescue, has been promoting the use of AEDs on boats, particular those that venture offshore. "My job is to educate boaters and professional sailors about how important these devices are. On any boat that goes away from shore, there is not much of a chance that immediate medical attention will be available," Steele said. "The units that are available these days, which anyone can buy after taking a slightly modified CPR course, are practically idiot proof. After applying the pads to a patient's bare chest, the AED analyzes the heart rhythm and then either makes the recommendation "shock advised" or announces that the person does not need a shock. When on a vessel equipped with an AED your chances of survival could be as high as 98 percent."

A person suffering cardiac arrest is believed to lose a 10-percent chance of survival for every minute that he goes untreated, according to American Heart Association statistics. A person is considered "brain dead" if 10 minutes has passed since the heart stopped beating. The waterproof Heartstream Forerunner unit, which is offered for sale at a significant discount to boaters by U.S. Search and Rescue, actually voice prompts a person through treatment. The basic process begins with a victim of suspected cardiac arrest being immediately prepared for AED hook-up, including being made comfortable and removed from water sources. The two paddles are secured to the patient's bare chest, and then a measurement of chest size is performed electronically to determine how long the 150-joule shock should be delivered to the patient. Once the chest is measured and a shock recommended by both the electronic voice and a screen display, the voice cautions the caregiver to stand clear of the patient while a shock is administered. The process repeats itself as necessary. Portable units cost just more than $3,000.

Contact Scott Steele at U.S. Search and Rescue in Cape Coral, Fla., for more information: 941-549-8679.

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