Cardiac Arrest: When Seconds Count

When it comes to cardiac arrest, a person may have symptoms or a history of problems before it occurs. Still, it typically strikes without much warning, and it’s always critical to get medical help as soon as you can.

Luckily for 46-year-old Aaron Albert, he had the benefit of the expertise of his family in the first few minutes and an experienced and reliable team of paramedics shortly after to treat, revive and get him to the Emergency Department in time to save his life.

Early Recognition

Imagine watching TV, surrounded by family, and suddenly feeling light-headed and then having your heart stop. Aaron doesn’t remember that part, but his wife, Tiko, and two sons certainly do. As soon as Tiko realized that Aaron was in trouble, she called for Adam, 15, and Avery, 17, to come help and to call 911. She began chest compressions, with Avery’s assistance, while Adam stayed on the phone until paramedics from the Arvada Fire Protection District arrived. Paramedics Andrew Higgins and James Reinhart, along with EMT Jim Bonsante, took over and rushed Aaron to the nearest hospital—Lutheran Medical Center.

That early recognition, early CPR and early activation—to shock his heart back to a normal rhythm—definitely saved his life, according to emergency physician Dan Cheek, MD. Aaron’s heart had to be shocked with a defibrillator five times before he arrived at the hospital, where one of Dr. Cheek’s colleagues was the first to treat him. Doctors checked for a blockage in his heart—there was none—and began a system of cooling him down to slow his metabolism, a treatment to protect a brain that had gone so long without oxygen. Then came a few days in intensive care and surgery to implant a defibrillator in his chest.

Even though Aaron had some previous heart problems, this event was unpredictable and the cause is still something of a mystery. As his cardiologist Jerry Miklin, MD, says, “He was in a very bad situation with a lot of really good luck and the right interventions.”

Family Ties

According to recent studies, the survival rate for those experiencing a cardiac arrest outside the hospital, as Aaron and more than 326,000 people do each year, is only between 6 and 11 percent. That rate is lifted to about 30 percent if there is someone nearby who knows CPR, as Aaron’s wife did.

He now understands just how lucky he was on that day in April. When he had an opportunity to meet with the 911 dispatcher, team of paramedics and medical and nursing staff at Lutheran in June, he and his family spent an emotional hour both reliving the event and expressing their gratitude.

“I can’t thank you all enough,” Aaron said. “Without your professionalism and dedication, I wouldn’t be here today. I have you to thank for that.” The family had significant ties to the hospital already, with all three children—Avery, Adam and daughter Kelly—having been born at Lutheran. After this experience, Avery and Adam are both considering careers in fire rescue services.

Did you know?

Lutheran is an Accredited Chest Pain Center. If you think you or someone with you is experiencing a heart attack, call 911 immediately.