Sudden cardiac arrest is the sudden stopping of heart function, breathing and consciousness. It appears suddenly and often without warning when the heart unexpectedly stops beating. This is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). When the heart stops beating, it is unable to pump blood to the brain and other organs. About 35,000 Canadians experience sudden cardiac arrest each year, and only an estimated 10 per cent survive. It’s critical that those in sudden cardiac arrest get the right help, right away.
Know the signs
Sometimes people will experience chest pain or discomfort, rapid or irregular heartbeats, wheezing, shortness of breath, light-headedness, fainting or near fainting and nausea or vomiting. If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 right away!
Often there is no warning for sudden cardiac arrest, so if you are with someone who collapses suddenly, stops breathing, and loses consciousness, call 911. If the person isn’t breathing, or is making gasping noises, begin hands-only CPR. (see below for more details).
The Libin Cardiovascular Institute adopted the Compression Only Resuscitation for Everyone (CORE) project in 2020 to teach Hands-Only CPR. Libin Clinical Engagement Specialist, Heather Agren, RN, BN was inspired to develop this education program after her friend lost her father, Ken, to sudden cardiac arrest.
Although Ken was surrounded by people, CPR was not initiated. The devastating incident inspired Heather to make it her mission to teach as many people as possible the critical skill of Hands-Only CPR.
How to administer Hands-Only CPR
Hands-Only CPR is a set of short and simple steps that can be done by anyone - even children. If you want to learn how to do this simple technique, view the a kid-friendly Hands-Only CPR video (featuring Heather and her girls. Doing so will help you and your child feel empowered if this life-threatening emergency occurs in your home, where 80 per cent of these incidences occur.
Use a Portable Automated External Defibrillator (AED) if it’s available. The machine will give you step-by-step instructions, turn it on and listen. If the machine advises you to give shock, do so, then immediately resume CPR. The machine will tell you what to do next, in about two minutes.
The AED will ask you to stop compressions as it analyses the person’s heart rhythm. The machine will then guide you to give another shock or, tell you a shock is not advised and to resume CPR. Repeat this cycle (defibrillator, compressions) until help arrives, you are no longer safe to do so, or the person gains consciousness. Learn more about how to use an AED by watching the short video, provided by the Heart & Stroke Foundation, below.
Where can I find an AED?
AEDs are available in many public places around Calgary, such as at the airport, in libraries, recreation centres and at shopping malls. AED locations are identified by a picture of a heart with a lightening bolt through it. An AED location map is available here.
Where can I learn more?
UCalgary Active Living offers Canadian Red Cross CPR classes that are open to the public. View course offerings and sign up here.