Joe Gould was only in his mid-40s when he had a heart attack. A silent heart attack. He had no warning signs ahead of time.
The day it happened was like any other day. He went to his job as a facilities manager for several senior housing units. At lunch time, he worked out at the local YMCA.
Three days later he woke up in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at his local medical center. He was shocked to find out he’d had a heart attack and had been in a medically induced coma. He remembers nothing.
“I started my workout and went about what I normally would do. I go on the elliptical trainer and then do a cool down session on a bike. Part of the story is only hearsay because I wasn’t there. I worked out and had switched over to the bike. I had a heart attack on the bike during the cool down session.”
When Joe had his heart attack, he went into cardiac arrest. His heart stopped beating — for five to ten minutes he says.
He owes his life to the quick thinking and quick acting people at the Y that day. First, someone called 911. Someone else started CPR. Rob Pekins, the aquatics director, rushed to Joe’s side with an AED in his hands. An AED is an automated external defibrillator.
“Rob did CPR and administered the AED machine,” says Joe. “Hence, I’m here today to be able to talk to you and tell you the story.”
When someone goes into cardiac arrest, every minute counts. If the person isn’t treated within 10 minutes, the chance of survival is almost zero.
Joe says it took the fire department 15 minutes to arrive. He’s convinced that if there wasn’t an AED machine at the Y, he would have been a dead man. “Absolutely,” he says, “and they had to use it twice.”
Heart attack versus cardiac arrest
In most cases, cardiac arrest happens around family, friends or strangers, not emergency responders. Any one of us could play a crucial role in saving a life. But how many of us would know what to do?
For instance, if someone is having a heart attack, but his/her heart is still beating, you wouldn’t use an AED.
The most important thing you can do if you suspect a heart attack is call 911.
If the person is in cardiac arrest — the heart has stopped beating — follow these steps:
- Call 911
- Administer hands-only CPR
- Use an AED if one is available
Many people use the terms heart attack and cardiac arrest interchangeably. They are not the same thing.
- A heart attack happens when the blood flow to the heart is blocked.
- Sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating.
- A heart attack is a “circulation” problem.
- Sudden cardiac arrest is an “electrical” problem.
- Most heart attacks don’t cause cardiac arrest, but if you’re having one your risk certainly increases.
- A heart attack is not the only cause of cardiac arrest, but it’s the most common.
- A number of heart conditions can cause the heart to suddenly stop beating.
Hands-only CPR, not mouth-to-mouth
If you’re worried about doing CPR, the Heart Association says you only need to do hands-only CPR. Push hard and fast (on an adult) in the center of the chest. Do it to the beat of Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees.
An AED is a lightweight, portable machine that delivers an electric shock to the heart. It’s designed so that non-medical people can use it by following simple directions. A recorded voice walks you through each step you have to take. Do you know where the nearest AED is in your community or facility?
In Maine, Medical Care Development Public Health (MCD Public Health) and the Maine Cardiovascular Health Council got a grant to buy and place hundreds of AEDs in rural Maine Communities. Click here for more information about the project.
About Advantage Home Care
Advantage Home Care provides a wide variety of in-home senior services, including non-medical care.
Our Aging in Place blog is written by Diane Atwood, who also writes the blogs Catching Health with Diane Atwood and mylatestart. If you have any topics you’d like us to cover, please let us know in the comments box below. Thank you!