Why Get CPR Certified?

CPRBefore I answer that, let me ask a question.  How can a cardiac arrest survivor and self-proclaimed HeartGeek not know CPR or how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED)?  I go around preaching about heart health, gratitude and doing the right thing, yet I wasn’t equipped to help someone experiencing a cardiac emergency.

Time for HeartGeek to man up and get some CPR training!

Chain of Survival

First a little history.  I survived a cardiac arrest because of the quick actions of my wife and the early medical attention I received from EMTs and doctors.  In my case, a near flawless execution of what is known as the “chain of survival”.

The chain of survival significantly increases the chances of survival for someone who experiences a cardiac arrest, heart attack, or stroke.  The five links or steps in the chain are:

  1. Early recognition and call for help, such as dialing 9-1-1
  2. Early CPR
  3. Early defibrillation
  4. Effective advanced life support
  5. Integrated post-cardiac arrest care

Step one is a no brainer and is typically well  executed.  Step two is where things start to go awry.  Sadly, only about 30% of cardiac arrest victims get CPR from a bystander.  Think that could have something to do with less than 10% of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest victims surviving?

Paying it Forward

I signed up for a CPR/AED class provided through the American Red Cross.  My class was instructor led, lasted three hours, and provided a lot of hands-on practice.

After some brief overview information, we jumped right in to the hands-on part of the agenda.  There were only about a dozen people in my class and we were paired up into teams.  With our partners, we practiced assessing the scene and and preparing the victim to receive aid.

Now it was time to bring out the manikins (you don’t practice CPR on each other).  I had a good idea of what to do here, but going through the paces made me feel more confident that I could pull it off in a real-life situation.  There are three simple steps for CPR:

  1. Give 30 chest compression at 100 beats per minute (see Stayin Alive)
  2. Give two rescue breaths
  3. Repeat

We next moved to the part of training I was most interested in, use of the automated external defibrillator (AED).  If you are like me, use of the AED is the most frightening aspect of providing assistance.  Shocking a loved one or total stranger with a device you have never used before is intimidating.  Rest assured, it’s not as hard as it sounds.

It is necessary that you make sure the victim is not in water and make note of any body piercings (or any metal) or medical patches.  Fire up the AED and it will provide audible step-by-step instructions.  When placing the patches on the victim, avoid those piercings and medical patches if you found any.

The AED will analyze the heart rhythm and make a determination to proceed with a shock.  Next, clear the area, push the button, and the shock is delivered.  At this point, continue CPR until assistance arrives.

The class concluded with instructions for dealing with choking and head/spinal injuries.  I will let you learn more about those in class.

So Why Get CPR Training?

Because four out of five cardiac arrests happen at home.  The life you save will likely be someone you know and love.  Also, it’s easy and it’s the right thing to do!  And yes, I can save your life.


Heart Attack and Cardiac Recovery Series

heart cloudsAs a survivor of both a cardiac arrest and heart attack, people often ask me “how are you feeling…you doing ok?” For several years, I usually just responded with “fine, doing great”. However, that question always reminded me that I was not doing great.

Even after getting a second chance at life, I hadn’t made many changes in my life to ensure I would enjoy this rare opportunity. The problem was, healthy living didn’t come naturally to me and I had no idea where to start. In fact, I was heading in the opposite direction.  Sound familiar?

After much trial and error, I have developed an approach to improving my overall health and it finally seems to be working.  I will share my approach in a four-part series I call “Zen and the Art of Cardiac Recovery”. The series outlines the steps I am taking to simplify my life, exercise, eat right, and reduce stress.

Lost, Broken Down, and Out of Gas

I didn’t start out with a plan. As with most things I do in life, I knew the end goal (improved cardiac health in this case) but I had no idea how to get there. Imagine if someone asked you to go on a road trip. Most people would plan a route and gas up the car before leaving. Not me, I would jump in the car and start driving in a general direction with the hope of getting there.

Sure, I would have an adventure in front of me and probably experience some pretty cool things along the way. I would also end up lost, broken down, and out of gas. Even if I got there, I would be a mess upon arrival. While this approach can be fun, it is also exhausting and many times results in failure….or a heart attack!

So knowing that, you may ask “why is this guy writing about a cardiac health plan?” Well, I’m not quite the irresponsible manchild I was at 41 when my cardiac event occurred. I finally realized the need to take things into my own hands, and coincidentally, a plan developed.

What I am about to outline is not easy. Changing the way you think and live while balancing family, work (notice how I put that second), and life can seem daunting, especially if you are in the early stages of your cardiac recovery. Or, maybe like me, you were just bound by the pleasure of your vices. For years, I rationalized my bad habits and postponed good habits:

  • I will quit smoking when I am 20…30…40.
  • I will start exercising when I quit smoking.
  • I will start eating healthy when I start exercising.
  • I will get healthy when my first child is born.
  • I will get healthy when my second child is born.

I knew this was ridiculous behavior, especially with my genetic history. Yet, I continued to do nothing to change. Whether you are trying to prevent your first heart attack, or you are recovering from you third, the first step is easy: Make the decision to change and then commit.

Roadside Assistance

The Zen and the Art of Cardiac Recovery series is based upon my own experience in changing the way I think and committing to a healthier life. Very little of this happened in the first four years after my event. I guess it took me a little while to figure out I had a role in determining the success and longevity of my recovery. Here is my basic plan and the topics of this upcoming series:

  • Simplify your life – Clear the distractions and focus on what is important.
  • Stop eating crap – Experiment with healthy eating.
  • Get off your ass – Start moving, slowly at first, but start moving.
  • Relax – Personally, I find this one the hardest.

You may be in the early stages of your cardiac recovery and find all of this a bit overwhelming. Or like me, you could be several years into your recovery and looking for way to shed your manchild ways. Either way, it is important to take the first step. You may want to just pick one area of focus, start slowly, and build towards a healthy lifestyle.

Keep in mind I am a cardiac patient, not a doctor. Should you decide to start make significant changes to your diet or exercise regime, talk to your doctor first. I do so, but only because my wife makes me do it.

Next up: Simplifying your Life

The full series of Zen and the Art of Cardiac Recovery Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4

Photo credit: aivas14 / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Why I Lied About My Cardiac Arrest

michael jackson and the bee geesLying About My Cardiac Arrest

Do you know the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest? Don’t worry, I have experienced both and I didn’t know the difference for quite a while afterwards. Sad, but true. My standard response when someone asked what happened to me – “I had a heart attack”. I wasn’t lying or misleading intentionally, I just didn’t fully understand what I had been through.

Looking back, I think I described my cardiac event as a heart attack because the concept of heart attack was more familiar to me than cardiac arrest. After all, both my father and brother had suffered heart attacks at the age of 39. It was a family tradition! One of the first things I said when I woke up in the hospital was “I beat them”. Meaning, I lasted until I was 41 before having my heart attack. I beat them in another way also, my heart attack came with a cardiac arrest.

The Truth from Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s death made me realize he and I were similar in ways far beyond our dancing skills. It was an article that I read about his death that finally made me understand the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest. It says a lot about my intellect that I didn’t take notice of this a year earlier when Tim Russert suffered a fatal cardiac arrest. A heart attack is plumbing – your arteries are blocked. A cardiac arrest is electrical – your heart stops beating (think death). Here are the differences and how I experienced each:

  • A heart attack occurs when a blocked artery prevents blood from reaching a section of the heart. My arteries were a mess. An initial angiography at the hospital demonstrated multivessel coronary artery disease with the right coronary artery 99% blocked.
  • Symptoms may be immediate and intense, or they may start slowly and persist for hours, days or weeks before the attack occurs. My wife said I had complained of feeling run down or tired for several days prior to collapsing.
  • The heart usually does not stop beating during a heart attack. Once I had the heart attack, I moved on to cardiac arrest, so my heart did stop beating.
  • Cardiac arrest occurs suddenly and often without warning. Since my cardiac arrest was the consequence of an acute inferior posterior infarct (heart attack) there was a little bit of a warning.
  • Cardiac arrest is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat. My electrical systems was in a definite state of malfunction. Paramedics performed CPR and shocked my heart from v-fib (cardiac arrest) to a-fib (irregular heartbeat).

For those that are more visual, check out this Cardiac Arrest versus Heart Attack Infographic provided by the American Heart Association for a great depiction of the differences.

Saved by the Bee Gees

So how did I survive both a heart attack and cardiac arrest? After all, the odds are not good. According to the American Heart Association, over 90% of those suffering a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital died. I survived because of the quick actions of my wife and a team of paramedics and doctors. My wife immediately started CPR which was then continued by paramedics when they arrived. They also shocked me with a defibrillator and gave me a quick shot of epinephrine.

So you may be wondering about the role of the Bee Gees in my survival. Guidance for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) states that hand compressions should be administered hard and fast to the middle of chest at 100 beats per minute, roughly the same amount of beats per minute on the Bee Gees “Staying Alive” track. How do I know my CPR was administered hard and fast? They broke my sternum! And I stayed alive.

I don’t recommend relying on Michael Jackson for your cardiac education and the Bee Gees to save your life. Hopefully, you are now aware of the basic difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest. I do recommend avoiding both if possible. You can do so living a healthy lifestyle. Stay tuned for an upcoming series full of heart healthy lifestyle tips.

Photo credit: Sheba_Also / Foter /Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)