Survival chances drop 7 percent each minute

Sunday, November 9, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 2:26 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

In a medical emergency, every second counts.

“Any time someone has to wait longer for an ambulance, the risk of something severe happening increases,” said Andrew Spain, a University Hospital paramedic.

Some of the most serious problems are cardiac arrests and traumas, which can go bad “very, very quickly,” Spain said.

Heart disease, which often leads to heart attacks, causes one out of every five deaths in the United States, and is a leading cause of sudden death in adults, according to the National Institutes of Health.

A heart attack, which is reduced or stopped blood flow to the heart, often causes a patient to go into cardiac arrest — the stopping of the heartbeat.

“People who have cardiac arrests typically don’t make it,” said Brian Kriete, a former paramedic at University and Boone hospitals.

Their best chance is with an immediate response, he said.

If a person sees the patient collapse and calls 911 right away, and the ambulance responds in four to five minutes, the patient has a better chance.

During cardiac arrest, or any other situation where oxygen flow is cut off, brain damage can begin in four to six minutes, according to the American Heart Association.

Chances of survival decrease by 7 to 10 percent with every minute that passes without treatment.

In Boone County, basic life-support services are often provided by the city fire department and county fire protection district.

Firefighters are usually the first responders to an emergency because their stations are more widespread than ambulances.

An immediate application of CPR can help keep blood flowing to the heart and brain.

Defibrillators, electric paddles that shock the heart, might be able to shock the heart back to its normal rhythm.

But these are only temporary fixes. Currently, only the ambulance services provide advanced life-support care with their paramedics, said Chuck Leake, former coordinator and current paramedic for University Hospital’s ambulance service.

Those ambulances are capable of “definitive airway management,” which lets a machine breathe for a patient.

The ambulances carry and administer special medications that can speed up or slow down the heart, Leake said.

And it’s not just about cardiac arrest.

“Where EMS shines is with regards to trauma,” said Mike Misko, president of the Association of Emergency Physicians.

“The sooner paramedics and EMTs arrive on-scene to treat trauma victims and address issues such as airway problems and shock, and to expedite transport to the closest appropriate facility, the better the outcome for the victims,” he said.

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