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Updated Jul 30, 2014 - 6:43 am

Arizona cardiac arrest program credited with saving many lives

PHOENIX — A study published Thursday in the Annals of Emergency Medicine says a system being used at Arizona hospitals has saved the lives of countless cardiac arrest patients.

Thanks to big help from a lot of people, a West Valley man is alive to tell his story.

It was last summer that 43-year-old Jose Garcia was at his home in Goodyear when his entire life changed.

“I was on my recliner working on a project,” said Garcia. “My wife said that I called out her name and went into cardiac arrest.”

Both Garcia and his wife had just taken CPR classes, so she knew just what to do. She called 911, then gave Jose some 300 to 400 chest compressions.

“She immediately went to work,” Garcia said. “My face turned different colors, she said. She just went on and was my first angel. My second angel was the 911 operator.”

Paramedics rushed Garcia to West Valley Hospital.

Dr. Daniel Spaite, the director of EMS research at the University of Arizona Emergency Medicine Research Center, said that Garcia was lucky.

“If you’re going to drop dead, Arizona is the state to do it in,” said Spaite.

That’s because of the Save Hearts Arizona Registration and Education Program, or S.H.A.R.E. It’s a statewide network of cardiac programs involving more than 30 hospitals and 100 fire departments in Arizona.

Spaite co-authored the study that says that under the program, the survival rate of Arizona cardiac arrest patients jumped 60 percent from 2007 to 2010.

“We’re talking scores of patients who have been saved just since the start of this who would not have been saved under the old system,” explained Spaite.

The program puts an emphasis on, among other things, CPR and 911 operator training and the use of cooling a patient’s body as soon as they arrive at the hospital.

Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble said the program uses cutting edge guidelines for post-cardiac arrest care that includes a lot of survival training.

“[It trains] 911 dispatchers to recognize symptoms of cardiac arrest and gives the dispatcher the tools that they need to implement…while they’re on the phone with someone who is witnessing a cardiac arrest,” said Humble.

Dr. Ben Bobrow is the co-lead author of the survey. He said that one of the important things to remember is that there is a difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest.

A heart attack happens when a blocked artery prevents blood from reaching a section of the heart. A cardiac arrest is triggered by an electrical malfunction that causes an irregular heartbeat. It occurs suddenly and often without warning.

In Garcia’s case, he was otherwise perfectly healthy and no signs of any heart problems had been detected. He was back home seven days after suffering cardiac arrest.

“I’m very lucky and very fortunate. It’s because of the work that they (the doctors and hospitals) have done, my wife, and the 911 operator,” said Garcia, who became emotional as he spoke. “It took a team to literally have me standing here today. I’m very appreciative. I’m glad that I could come here today and talk about what happened, because they do fabulous work, and I’m a prime example.”

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