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Medtronic Foundation backs effort to increase survival rates after sudden cardiac arrest by 50 percent

Demetris Yannopoulos, M.D., is part of an awareness effort focused on teaching more people how to respond when someone suffers sudden cardiac arrest. (Photo: Richard Anderson)

Sudden heart failure is almost always fatal. About 92 percent of Americans who suffer sudden cardiac arrest outside of hospitals die within minutes. And in the past 30 years, the average national survival rate has not increased.

“It’s because we’ve been doing the same stuff for the last 50 years,” says interventional cardiologist Demetris Yannopoulos, M.D., director of the University of Minnesota Resuscitation Center.

Yannopoulos believes we can do better. He and a group of collaborators from across the country hope to improve survival rates after sudden cardiac arrest—when the heart unexpectedly stops beating—by at least 50 percent in five years through an innovative implementation and awareness effort called the HeartRescue Project.

The goal? For every American who suffers sudden cardiac arrest to receive evidence-based, state-of-the-art care at the scene, en route to the hospital, and at the hospital.

HeartRescue Project partners aim to accomplish this by teaching more people—from members of the general public to emergency medical technicians and emergency room physicians— how they can best respond to such a crisis.

Backed by grants of $2.5 million from the Medtronic Foundation to each of five partner institutions (at the universities of Minnesota, Arizona, Duke, Pennsylvania, and Washington), the HeartRescue Project brings together the country’s leading emergency and resuscitation experts, including Yannopoulos and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota Resuscitation Center.

HeartRescue teams also will compile statewide data on the number of cardiac arrests that occur every year and the number of people who survive, Yannopoulos says. For the first time, that data will be reported through the Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Health, so anyone can track the progress.

Yannopoulos acknowledges that the HeartRescue Project is undoubtedly a big undertaking. But, he says, “it’s a lot of lives saved.”

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