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In 2020, Lauren Ross left her Ottawa home for her usual morning run. Everything felt normal, except for the fact that she found the run tougher than normal.
"It was odd. It was my usual running route, so it wasn't anything different [from] my usual run,” Ross tells Yahoo Canada. “But I remember thinking, 'Huh weird, this is harder than usual.'”
The then 28-year-old nurse started to feel a fluttering in her heart at the end of her run. Ross decided to turn back and head home— but she didn’t make it. She collapsed in front of a school during her cool down and went into cardiac arrest.
While Ross didn’t know it at the time, there were several bystanders who quickly jumped into action, calling 911 and administering CPR. The emergency operator instructed someone to go into the school and find an Automated External Defibrillator machine (AED) to help shock her heart. They were able to use the AED on Ross, before emergency services arrived and used a defibrillator on her as well.
I never would have thought that I was going to be somebody to have a cardiac arrestLauren Ross
Ross recalls waking up three days later after the hospital initiated a cooling protocol to protect her brain, which had been without oxygen for 19 minutes during the arrest.
"It was overwhelming,” Ross says. “I had pain in my chest afterwards from the chest compressions, and it was surreal to both know that it had happened to me, but that bystanders had stepped in and saved my life.
“Cardiac arrest can happen to anybody, and it doesn't mean that you need to have risk factors for it,” she adds. “I never would have thought that I was going to be somebody to have a cardiac arrest; especially because I was out running. I don't think people know enough about the fact that you don't need to have risk factors; that this can happen to anybody.”
Cardiac arrests in Canada are on the rise
A new report from the Heart & Stroke Foundation found that approximately 60,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur each year in Canada; that's one every nine minutes. The number is significantly larger than the 35,000 cardiac arrests previously estimated and suggested by data.
Survival rates are of even greater cause for concern: only one in 10 Canadians who experience cardiac arrest outside a hospital setting will survive.
What's the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest?
A heart attack — often associated with older people who may be experiencing a blockage — is essentially a clogging of the arteries that lead to the heart, making blood flow more difficult. A person having a heart attack could be responsive, and call for help on their own.
After seven to 10 minutes, they have a very low chance of survival.Andrew Lotto
In comparison, a cardiac arrest a full "shorting out of the [body's] electrical system," Andrew Lotto, Senior Manager, Business Development and Engagement (Resuscitation) at Heart & Stroke Foundation tells Yahoo Canada. During cardiac arrest, there’s no blood or oxygen being delivered to the brain or body. Symptoms of a cardiac arrest will be immediate; organs shut down rapidly and the person collapses.
“Every minute where somebody doesn't get lifesaving CPR or the use of an aid in a cardiac arrest situation, somebody's chance of survival decreases by 10 per cent,” Lotto says. “After seven to 10 minutes, they have a very low chance of survival.”
Lotto says rapid response could prevent death from occurring.
Canadians need greater access to AED machines
Experts say a greater awareness of the signs of cardiac arrest and the necessary steps to help someone in distress are integral to lowering the number of fatalities each year. And that means greater access to CPR training and AED machines across the country.
Automated External Defibrillators (AED Machines) are portable, user-friendly electrical devices that deliver a shock to the heart when it detects an abnormal rhythm in the heart’s electrical current.
“AEDs are safe to use by anyone regardless of their training level because they contain voice prompts and help guide you through how to utilize them,” Lotto says. Because AEDs assess the rhythm of an individual’s heart, they’ll only work if someone is actually experiencing cardiac arrest.
The Heart & Stroke Foundation have advocated since the early 2000s for an increase in AEDs in public spaces like hockey rinks and community centres, however Lotto says “we're well short of making them as commonplace as fire extinguishers."
However, that's easier said than done. While Lotto says devices have come down in price over the past few years, AED machines currently cost anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000, with additional costs required for replacement batteries and gel pads.
There is currently no legislation that requires employers to have AEDs installed in the workplace. However, Lotto says there is an "element of personal and social responsibility" to ensure they are more commonplace.
What should you do if someone goes into cardiac arrest?
If you encounter someone experiencing cardiac arrest, Lotto advises acting immediately; call 911, call for someone to find and bring an AED, and then proceed to push hard and fast into the centre of the person’s chest until emergency services arrive.
“The act of pushing hard and fast in the centre of their chest is functioning as an artificial heart,” Lotto says. “You are pushing and pumping blood when their heart isn't doing that…pushing the blood around keeps them vital and gives time for emergency responders to get to the scene.”
Ross notes, it’s important for everyone to take CPR class, which can also teach you how to use an AED machine.
“If you do know CPR, you are capable of saving somebody's life,” Ross says.