Check Your Bias – Cardiac Arrest Is Not Just for Old Folks

Posted: January 7, 2016    |   John Ehinger

This week’s headlines included a story about a KLM pilot making an emergency landing to save a baby who had gone into cardiac arrest on a flight to Singapore. While but one example, this episode contradicts the unfortunately common misperception that Cardiac Arrest is an issue confined to the elderly. Certainly, the aged are at significant risk of cardiac arrest, but the reality is that we are all at risk – no matter how old we are.

To put this risk in perspective, we took a look at National EMS Information System statistics from 2013 through 2015 (as of 12/9/15). 38% of reported cardiac arrests were for victims 59 and younger. And, over one-fifth (21%) of reported cardiac arrests were for people 49 and younger. Incidents are summarized by age in the following diagram, and the left (younger) side of the chart is likely a lot more crowded than you would expect.

The sad reality is that cardiac arrest can strike at any age. A recent article about a (successful) effort to provide CPR training to children in Hawaii cites 14,000 annual cardiac arrest deaths in children and infants – which is roughly double the number of people who die from ALS in the US each year. Parent Heart Watch notes that cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death on school campuses and for student athletes overall.

As human beings, we have developed remarkable coping mechanisms to deal with dreadful things. “It won’t happen to me” and “I’m too young” are convenient mental tricks that we play on ourselves – unfortunately, they just aren’t always accurate.


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