King County may be the best place to have a heart attack

King County may be the best place to have a heart attack
Courtesy Seattle & King County Public Health.

SEATTLE -- Public health officials report sudden cardiac survival rates in King County are now the highest in the world. Despite this great achievement, leaders in the community are striving to do even better.

In 2012, 55 percent of sudden cardiac arrest victims in King County survived and 85 percent of those maintained good neurological functioning. That survival rate has doubled in the county since 2002 and is significantly higher than the nation's average of 8 percent, according to Dr. Mickey Eisenberg, medical director for King County Emergency Medical Services.

"It’s almost like snatching life from the jaws of death," Eisenberg said. "A sudden cardiac arrest event is probably the most dramatic emergency anyone will ever experience. It happens to people whose hearts are too good to die. They have a lot of mileage left, and if the system responds quickly they can go on to live full lives."

King County has the nation’s highest rate of witnesses of cardiac arrest performing CPR, Eisenberg said. When done at the scene, CPR doubles the victim's likelihood of survival.

Eisenberg said voters have also supported the county's life-saving efforts by approving the Medic One/Emergency Medical Services levy over several decades.

"We have the resources we need to continue these lifesaving achievements," he said

King County's paramedics are also highly trained, requiring 2,500 hours experience rather than the national requirement of 1,000. Some respond to an average of 50 cardiac arrests per year.

Jim Fogarty, director of King County's Emergency Medical Services Division, has lead divisions in Florida and New York, but he said King County's response system is most effective.

“Our system is based on medicine," Fogarty said. "In every decision it's the medical outcome that matters most.”

Despite the county's success, public health officials are aiming for a survival rate of 60 percent this year by focusing more attention on emergency dispatchers who provide instruction during cardiac events.

But, they also want to increase survival rates around the world. On Friday, King County will host its annual Resuscitation Academy to teach communities around the world how to improve their survival rates. They’re expecting attendees from Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois and Connecticut, as well as representatives from Norway and Japan. Eisenberg said he has seen leaders double survival rates in their own community.

"It's an effort to try to share with the rest of the world the things that make our system so strong and unique," Eisenberg said. "Then they realize they can make a change in their system."

Eisenberg recommended anyone who wants to do their part to increase cardiac arrest survival rates should take a CPR course themselves.

"It's easy to do and it really does make a difference."