Beating the Odds

June 25, 2020

There are more than 356,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests (OHCA) annually in the U.S., nearly 90 percent of them fatal, according to the American Heart Association’s Heart and Stroke Statistics—2019 Update. According to the report, the incidence of EMS-assessed non-traumatic OHCA in people of any age is estimated to nearly 1,000 people each day. Survival to hospital discharge after EMS-treated cardiac arrest is about 10 percent.

With such daunting odds, survivor stories should be celebrated and the lessons learned shared. Case in point: Walter Smith of Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

A Sudden Attack
It was the holiday season, a time of cheer and, often, a time of stress. In fact, cases of sudden cardiac arrest jump five percent during the holidays, and cold weather can increase strain on the heart. But for Walter Smith, 61, nothing was amiss. He was used to the cold of a Michigan winter. December third was just another day until he collapsed suddenly while walking outdoors. His heart had stopped. 

Bystanders called 911 and Grand Rapids Fire arrived first. The GFR crew initiated high-quality CPR, and delivered three countershocks using an AED. The AMR Grand Rapids crew, consisting of Paramedic Kevin Long and EMT Margaret Herman, arrived shortly thereafter. Smith was still unresponsive.

AMR First Responders Act Quickly
The AMR crew delivered additional countershocks, managed Smith’s airway, and initiated Advanced Cardiac Life Support: initiating vascular access, reading and interpreting his electrocardiogram and employing emergency pharmacology. After these ministrations, a Return of Spontaneous Circulation was attained, and Smith was prepared for transport to a cardiac facility. But he wasn’t out of the woods yet. 

Upon arrival at the emergency department (ED), Smith began thrashing, was tachycardic (a resting heart rate above 100 BPM), and hypertensive (elevated blood pressure). The ED team stabilized and sedated Smith, determined that he was a candidate for angiography, and quickly moved him to the cardiac cath lab. The interventional cardiologist successfully opened the occluded artery and Smith was fitted with a pacemaker. He ultimately regained consciousness, was discharged from the hospital, and suffers no neurological deficits. 

Another Tomorrow
When discharged, Smith insisted that he meet the team that saved his life so he could thank them in person. Smith not only thanked the folks who saved his life, he autographed his ROSC plaque and positioned it as the first plaque on the Tomorrow Wall in Grand Rapids. The Tomorrow Wall is designed to celebrate sudden cardiac arrest survivors and all the tomorrows they will now be able to share with their loved ones. 

AMR and its parent company Global Medical Response encourage you to learn more about sudden cardiac arrest. Also, learning basic, compression-only CPR can improve the chances of survival for a cardiac arrest victim exponentially. 


The Tomorrow Wall is on display in operations across AMR and serves as a constant reminder of the importance of early, high-quality CPR, timely defibrillation and Advanced Cardiac Life Support.

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