In my health communications class yesterday we discussed how it’s really difficult to motivate people to change behaviors or pay attention to issues when all we hear are huge numbers that we cannot possibly comprehend. Putting a face and a story to the many that suffer from an issue can help. But what if we’re not provided numbers? What if there’s not even enough attention given to an issue that most of us don’t know about it? As I have learned, this is often the case with Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). Today, I want to give both numbers and a face to the story of SCA, in honor of February as Heart Disease Awareness Month, and in honor of my friend Jenny Snyder.
Jenny was one of my closest friends, a camp friend, who died unexpectedly from SCA five years ago because of an undiagnosed congenital heart defect. Jenny was an amazing person – a force of nature. To honor Jenny’s legacy, I try whenever possible to educate those around me on the importance of SCA. So, here it goes:
What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
SCA is a leading cause of death in the US, killing over 325,000 people each year. That’s more than deaths from breast cancer, lung cancer, and HIV/AIDS combined. During SCA, the heart stops functioning suddenly and without warning, usually due to impaired electrical impulses in the heart. 90% of people who are stricken with SCA die.
So, is SCA a type of heart attack?
No. SCA is an electrical problem. A heart attack is a “plumbing” problem, caused by blockages in the heart’s vessels. Sometimes, a heart attack may lead to SCA.
How do we treat people from SCA?
If someone collapses from SCA, performing CPR and using an automated external defibrillator (AED) are essential for any chance of recovery. People who have survived SCA or are at high risk can implant a cardioverter defibrillator via surgery to protect against SCA.
Who’s at risk?
SCA can strike any person at any age, even healthy young athletes like Jenny. People who have a history of heart disease, chest pain, heart failure, or other cardiac risk factors are also more likely to be at risk.
Now that we know what SCA is, what can we do?
In order to prevent SCA, promoting heart healthy lifestyles is a critical first step, because many people that are victims have signs of coronary heart disease. However, for healthy young people like Jenny, we need to promote AED placement, education, and policies that promote more awareness of SCA. For instance, Michigan only requires AED placement in health clubs, and not in schools. We can do better. Individuals can also take an SCA risk assessment online or screen their kids to see personal risk levels.
So now you know. Spread awareness of the importance of SCA and incorporate this important issue into your view of “heart health.” Sometimes, it only takes one story to get you to really understand and care about the gravity of a situation. Now you have mine.