Heart Attack!

Across the marine environment, dealing with emergency situations on the water is normally centered around responding to collisions, fires and navigational hazards. Safe boating classes, onboard fire extinguishing systems and the proper use of radar and GPS are all important tools in a boater’s arsenal to prevent these common hazards. Not to be left out is the necessity for effective strategies that surround on-the-water medical emergencies, particularly that of cardiac arrest while out of reach of immediate medical assistance.


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Quick thinking and preparation will keep your victim alive until the professionals arrive. Photo: / istockphoto

Sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone, anywhere, and at any time. For decades, the public has been made aware of the warning signs of a heart attack and how to start the emergency medical system for the prompt delivery of services. Furthermore, millions worldwide have participated in CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation) classes in which the ABCs of cardiac care are demonstrated and practiced. More often than not, these classes are taught in the clean and relaxed environment of a classroom, fire station, or community center. Unfortunately, when a real heart attack happens, the conditions themselves can play a key role in how the responder reacts in his or her attempt to assist the victim. The boating environment itself can pose challenges to the responder in dealing with a medical emergency. However, with proper planning, plus having the right equipment, one can make the challenges of an on-the-water response much more manageable.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in this country, more so than breast cancer, lung cancer, and AIDS combined.

Dr. Michael Hall, a Miami-based physician and CEO of Hall MEDpac ( has developed a personal medical kit that allows travelers to possess a mobile emergency room wherever their adventures take them. Designed to provide immediate, on-site medical treatment, the Hall MEDpac is a solution to obtaining emergency services and urgent, life-preserving care for the most commonly encountered injuries and accidents. Technology such as the MEDpac has given boaters a great deal of flexibility in handling incidents on the water. From lacerations, bone care, pain control, burn treatments, respiratory support, all the way up to infection control and OB/GYN delivery kits, a complete MEDpac offers a captain a powerful asset to deal with the unexpected. Perhaps one of the most unique features of the Hall MEDpac is that it includes a satellite phone with international connectivity directly to emergency room physicians anytime of day from nearly anywhere on Earth. Going a step further, the kit also includes an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) and emergency drugs to handle cardiac emergencies.

The AED is one of the medical community’s greatest contributions to patient survival in a cardiac emergency. An AED is a portable, battery-operated device that diagnoses cardiac arrhythmias of ventricular defibrillation and delivers a shock to the heart, which allows it to restore a sustainable rhythm. AEDs are everywhere, cost-effective and easy to use. Keith Murray, owner of The CPR School (, a mobile CPR/AED training company that specializes in training crews on personal yachts to cruise ships, says that every boat should have an AED on board. Murray cites the American Heart Association whose statistics report that sudden cardiac arrest claims approximately 340,000 lives a year—or nearly 1,000 per day in the United States. Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in this country, more so than breast cancer, lung cancer, and AIDS combined. Percentage-wise, early use of an AED can improve a person’s chance of survival by an astonishing 70 to 90-percent. Most AEDs are very user-friendly and have voice prompts that walk you through the entire procedure, so never hesitate to use one.

The skill of CPR used to be fairly complicated with its stringent step-by-step procedures and precise measurements of hand position and amount of breaths. However, new standards have been released, and the process has been simplified to the point that anyone can perform CPR without fear. As expected, the doctors and associations who recommend CPR procedures have all but eliminated breathing into a patient. Although everyone should attend CPR training and become certified on an AED, the fundamentals of performing CPR have gone from A-B-C, providing an Airway, giving Breaths, and performing Compressions, to a simplified C-A-B where Compressions are performed by pushing hard and fast on the center of a victim’s chest about two inches deep on an adult or child. Airway means tilting the victim’s head back and lifting the chin to open the airway. Breathing means to give two rescue breaths after doing a regiment of 30 compressions until medical help or an AED arrives. The lack of emphasis on having to do mouth-to-mouth breathing on a victim should curb anxiety and allow rescuers to immediately begin chest compressions.

It’s scary to think about emergency situations, especially an unexpected heart attack, but when someone goes down with sudden cardiac arrest, having access to an AED and beginning chest compressions will dramatically increase their chance of survival.