On a beautiful autumn day four years ago, my family and I were enjoying an outing together in the lake district of BC. After lunch, we stopped to take some pictures and walk our dog along the shore of the lake. What happened next was unexpected and not something any of us were truly prepared for.
Cardiac arrest isn't something you really think will happen to you or your loved ones. For my family, our story was written that day when my father-in-law suddenly collapsed in front of us on the dock at the lake. He had experienced a cardiac arrest and our family was instantly hurled into an emergency response situation to try and save his life.
It's an unfortunately common story; the numbers are astonishing. Cardiac arrest kills more people than prostate cancer, breast cancer and car accidents combined. That means every year it will claim the lives of some 40,000 Canadians, most without any warning signs or history of heart problems. But with more public education and awareness, we know we can create more survivors. And research tells us that one of the positive influencing factors on survival rates is the fast action and willingness of bystanders to perform CPR (cardio pulmonary resuscitation) and use an AED (automated external defibrillator).
No one can predict where or when a cardiac arrest might occur. As in my father-in-law's case, 85 per cent of cardiac arrest events happen outside the hospital. And the odds are currently stacked against us: less than 10 per cent of those who experience an out of hospital cardiac arrest in Canada will survive.
While there was no AED nearby for us to use, we know that we did everything else we could to help. Our family sprang into action. We assessed him, called 9-1-1, and started CPR immediately. My husband performed chest compressions on his father for 22 long minutes until emergency medical services arrived to our remote location. Despite everyone's efforts, we were unable to save him.
Four of us went out for a beautiful day together. We never imagined that only three of us would go home.
We took some comfort that we were with him when the arrest occurred; if it had happened the day before, he could have been alone or behind the wheel of his car. For my father-in-law, maybe it was his time. For me, it has been the catalyst that led to a job with the Heart and Stroke Foundation promoting healthy lifestyle choices, heart and stroke education and providing support for survivors and their families.
This month, the Heart and Stroke Foundation in B.C. launched a smartphone app to give people some basic knowledge so they can respond to a cardiac arrest -- whether it's a stranger on the street or a loved one at home.
The difference between doing something and doing nothing is the chance of survival.
With just a few simple clicks, the new Cardiac Arrest Action App can teach a user some simple steps they can use to respond. It then offers a quick and fun test along with the ability to share what you've learned on social media.
There are three easy steps to learn:
• CALL 9-1-1 and then shout for an AED
• PUSH hard and fast in the centre of their chest
• RESTART the heart by using the AED as soon as it arrives
The difference between doing something and doing nothing is the chance of survival. If it was your husband or daughter, wouldn't you want to give them the best possible chance?
You can't control where or when a cardiac arrest might happen, but you can be prepared with some basic knowledge and choose to act so more lives can be saved, including those of the ones we love.
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