A physical therapist was practicing yoga nearby. She ran over to see what was happening, and quickly began administering CPR.

SCA Survivor Spreads the Word About Learning CPR

"Keep spreading the word, teaching the public, and pushing for AED access laws in your communities. Stories like mine are the best teaching tools," says SCA survivor J.R. Bourne.

Cardiac arrest is the loss of the heart's ability to pump blood to the body. The most dramatic occurrence, sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), can happen with little or no warning. Victims abruptly become unresponsive and collapse. Abnormal gasping can occur, and breathing may stop completely.

According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, the most likely cause of SCA is an unexpected disruption to the heart's electrical system, in which normally organized electrical pulses within the heart become disorganized and a chaotic quivering condition known as ventricular fibrillation occurs. Blood flow to the body, along with the oxygen it carries, stops. Without blood flow, brain damage occurs rapidly and quickly leads to death.

Sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone, at any time—even to someone in the prime of his or her life and who has no prior health conditions that would suggest the likelihood of an SCA event.

On June 27, 2015, J.R. Bourne, manager of corporate marketing for the PGA Tour, was spending a typical morning on a Jacksonville, Fla., beach, kicking a soccer ball around with a friend. He began to feel lightheaded and then collapsed. J.R.'s friend thought it was a joke, but that quickly turned to fear when J.R. began shaking, eventually becoming still and unresponsive.

Luckily for J.R., a physical therapist was practicing yoga nearby. She ran over to see what was happening, and quickly began administering CPR. After only one minute of CPR, the Jacksonville Beach Volunteer Life-Saving Corps appeared. The lifeguards had begun their shift only 20 minutes prior and had not yet driven their response truck to a different area of the beach, so they were moments away from J.R.'s location.

The lifeguards brought their rescue expertise and their automated external defibrillator (AED) to the emergency scene. An AED is a small, portable, computerized device that sends a controlled electrical shock through the heart to stop ventricular fibrillation, allowing the heart's normal electrical activity to return and restore blood flow. It automatically analyzes the heart rhythm, determines whether a shock is needed, and charges itself to be ready to defibrillate.

Successful defibrillation is highly dependent on how quickly defibrillation occurs. For each minute in cardiac arrest, the chance of survival goes down by about 10 percent. After as few as 10 minutes, survival is unlikely.

The lifeguards performed team CPR as one of them prepped the AED. Two shocks were delivered, with J.R. regaining consciousness briefly after the first shock. He was unable to open his eyes or verbally respond, but he remembers hearing the urgent conversation among his rescuers. "I heard them talking about someone's pulse returning and then starting to lose it again, and I wondered who they were talking about," he recalled, "and then I was gone again." He had become unresponsive again and the lifeguards delivered a second shock.

By the time the ambulance arrived, J.R. was conscious and talking to EMS.

"It's almost too overwhelming to even think about," J.R. explained. "That this happened to me. That I was so lucky that all the steps in the Chain of Survival were followed so perfectly. I lived through something that so many others don't survive. It's too much to comprehend and the emotional acceptance of what happened took some time."

Teaching the Value of Bystander Emergency Care
With that eventual acceptance came a desire and commitment to spread the word about bystander training for CPR and AED. The PGA Tour organization holds biannual CPR/AED trainings, and J.R. has taken on the role of motivational speaker at the classes. He also works with local training organizations to teach hands-only CPR to children through the Jacksonville school system, where he explains first-hand just how important bystander intervention can be.

After recovering from his SCA, J.R. met with the lifeguards who saved him, thanking them and eventually accepting a position on the Board of Directors of the Jacksonville Beach Volunteer Life-Saving Corps to assist with marketing and fundraising efforts. "I'm proud to connect the lifeguards to the broader community this way," he said. "We have this Baywatch perception of lifeguards who hang around the beach enjoying themselves all day, and that just isn't the case. These are ocean rescue-trained heroes, and it's rewarding to showcase the important work they do."

And what about those who have dedicated their careers to emergency care training? What would this SCA survivor say to them? "Keep spreading the word, teaching the public, and pushing for AED access laws in your communities. Stories like mine are the best teaching tools," he explained. "Before this happened, I didn't even know what an AED was; I ask myself, 'Would I have known what to do with one?' That's what emergency care instructors give to the world. You empower people to run towards the emergency, not away from it, because they know have the skills and tools to respond. That's what saves lives, and there's plenty of proof to show it works."

As for the future, J.R. now has an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) in case SCA strikes again. Since the 2015 event, the ICD has activated once while he was on the golf course. He came through that second event with flying colors. "I think the placement of the ICD in my chest has actually improved my golf swing," he quipped.

Success stories like J.R.'s are dramatic examples of successful bystander emergency care. A recently published study in the journal Circulation looked at cardiac arrest in large metropolitan areas in the United States and Canada and shows how a bystander's immediate use of an AED has a significant impact on survival rates.

According to the study, the chances for survival from cardiac arrest double when a bystander steps in to respond with an AED prior to the arrival of EMS. Those first few moments are critical to a positive outcome, and the growing availability of easy-to-use public-access AEDs means bystanders can truly make a lifesaving difference.

The Importance of Taking Action
More than 100,000 cardiac arrests a year occur outside the home. Of the 49,555 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests analyzed in the study, researchers focused on "those that occurred in public, were witnessed and were shockable. The researchers found that nearly 66 percent of these victims survived to hospital discharge after a shock delivered by a bystander. Their findings emphasized that bystanders make a critical difference in assisting cardiac arrest victims before emergency responders can get to the scene."

One of the most difficult decisions to make is whether to get involved when we think a medical emergency has occurred. It is normal to feel hesitant about our ability to help or overwhelmed that the problem is too big to handle alone.

To everyone who has received CPR, AED, and first aid training, remember:

  • You are only the first link in a progressive chain of emergency care. Your involvement lasts only until relieved by another first aid provider or responding EMS personnel—in most cases, a very short period of time.
  • Your training provides you with sound knowledge and skills designed only to help—and not harm—those in need.
  • Extensive medical knowledge is not necessary. First aid is simple and easy to provide.

If it is safe to do so, take action. Your actions can help to protect or save a life.

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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