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CPR Saves Lives: What to know about Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA)

Close up of a person's hands practicing chest compressions on a CPR manikin in training class

By Dr. Rich Snyder, Executive Vice President of Facilitated Health Networks at Independence Blue Cross

Football fans, including myself, watched with extreme concern when Buffalo Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin collapsed after what appeared to be a routine tackle. Thanks to the quick life-saving treatment performed by a team of emergency staff on the spot, Damar’s story has a positive ending.  At last report, he is recovering at a remarkable pace. He even attended the Bills’ playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs four weeks later to root for his teammates.

Unfortunately, most sudden cardiac arrests (SCA) don’t end this way. In the U.S. there are more than 350,000 deaths a year from these events and 90 percent of people who experience a SCA outside of a hospital setting die.

I was glad to see a flood of media stories following Damar’s incident focus on the importance of CPR and the use of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs). But awareness alone is not enough. We need to bang that drum loudly every single day.

No organization does that better than the American Heart Association (AHA), which I’m proud to have worked with for more than 8 years. Independence Blue Cross (Independence) has partnered with the AHA on many initiatives aimed at removing barriers so that everyone can enjoy a long, healthy life.

One such project was the CPR Ready Coalition, which included amongst others, Penn Medicine, the Red Cross, Independence, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), and the Philadelphia Fire Department. CPR Ready was a four-year regional initiative to improve survival rates for sudden cardiac arrest by increasing access to Hands-Only CPR and AED training. Hands-Only CPR keeps lifesaving blood flowing to vital organs until first responders arrive. This can double or even triple a person’s chance of survival.

Here are some highlights of the program’s success:

  • CPR Ready trained nearly 160,000 people across five counties in Southeastern PA and increased bystander CPR intervention in Philadelphia from 14 percent in 2016 to 22 percent in 2020.
  • Survival rate for people experiencing an out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest in Philadelphia rose from 20 percent in 2016 to 26 percent in 2020.
  • In addition, 94 percent of middle and high schools in Philadelphia and surrounding counties now have AEDs.

I’m also proud that Independence is the sponsor of the CPR training kiosk at Penn Medicine’s Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine where visitors can learn Hands-Only CPR in under five minutes, to date training over 7,000 people.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 2,000 young, seemingly healthy people under age 25 in the United States die each year of sudden cardiac arrest. This fact made it even more meaningful to work alongside healthcare leaders like Dr. Kenneth Margulies of Penn Medicine to advocate for CPR education in our schools. In 2019, Governor Wolf signed a law requiring high school students to learn CPR prior to graduation thanks to passionate advocates like the American Heart Association, CHOP, and others.

These are all meaningful developments in CPR and AED education, but we can’t stop there. I hope one day the quick action that led to Damar Hamlin’s survival won’t be limited to a few people who were in the right place at the right time. When every person who can perform CPR is educated and trained, surviving a SCA will no longer be a slim statistic.

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Dr. Richard Snyder is the recipient of the 2022 American Heart Association Eastern States Region Leadership Legacy Award.