Chest compression technique saving lives

PUBLISHED: 08:15 03 June 2006 | UPDATED: 10:57 22 October 2010


Cardiac arrest sufferers owe their lives to new resuscitation techniques introduced last year by the East Anglian Ambulance Service.

Dozens of cardiac arrest sufferers owe their lives to new resuscitation techniques introduced last year by the East Anglian Ambulance Service.

An audit of patients whose hearts were capable of being restarted showed a dramatic 26 per cent improvement in resuscitation success rates.

Last year, 84 patients had their hearts restarted prior to arrival at hospital, compared with 50 the year before.

The new technique, pioneered in America and ratified by the UK-based Resuscitation Council, involves giving patients chest compressions prior to an electric shock to the heart using a defibrillator.

Paul Murray, cardiac nurse specialist for the EAAS, said the service was among the first to introduce the new technique.

He said: "The figures prove we are having far greater success in reviving patients with this condition and highlight again that clinical excellence is just as important as speed of response. The two must be married together to make a real impact on patient care."

The most common type of cardiac arrest occurs when the heart goes into ventricular fibrillation (VF) and begins to twitch randomly rather than beating to a steady rhythm. The heart is unable to pump blood around the body and, if not treated within minutes, the patient will die.

Previous guidelines indicated giving an electric shock as early as possible. Now ambulance crews are advised to give two minutes of chest compressions, if they arrive more than four minutes after the cardiac arrest occurred, prior to using a defibrillator. For those patients where the paramedic witnesses the cardiac arrest, immediate defibrillation is still indicated.

Mr Murray added: "Previously we were trying to shock a heart, which could not pump blood through the system, back into a rhythm. Now, by giving chest compressions just before the shock, we are hopefully getting the flow of blood moving through the heart so that the shock has a much greater chance of success. We can see from the results that it works."

One patient to benefit from the technique is retired civil engineer Mike Wells, 67, who collapsed at home at Stoke Holy Cross near Norwich.

Fortunately, Ian Arbuthnot, who is also a trained emergency medical technician, had just arrived home from his day job of head of IT for the EAAS. As he lived nearby, he was able to respond to the emergency.

With the help of Mr Wells' son Simon, Ian used chest compressions followed by three electric shocks with a defibrillator to restart his heart.

Mr Wells, who had suffered two previous heart attacks, has since had an internal defibrillator fitted into his heart, which will automatically shock it back into a normal rhythm should he go into ventricular fibrillation again.

"I lost my father through a cardiac arrest and I know that a few years ago, with the treatments that were around, I wouldn't have survived," he added.

Ian was delighted to see Mr Wells looking so well, and said: "I've seen him around the village a few times since and it's great to know that we can make such a difference. In this case getting to Mike so quickly was crucial to restarting his heart."

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