Cardiac arrests at 3M Half Marathon highlight importance of quick CPR

Simple Health

Austin (KXAN) — Two runners suffered cardiac arrests at this year’s 3M Half Marathon — within minutes of each other.

Both runners were given immediate CPR and defibrillation, both had their pulse and breathing restored, and both were taken to hospitals.

While KXAN does not have official confirmation on the conditions of these patients, Austin Travis County EMS explained the last update they received indicated the patients, “have a very good chance of survival and not just survival but to resume their previous life before their cardiac arrest.”

The 3M Half Marathon was staffed with many first responders and medical personnel, among them was Kevin Parker, a commander for Austin Travis County EMS who oversees special events for the agency.

Parker explained the sequence of events to KXAN.

An APD officer at Duvall and 32nd Street said a runner came up struggling to breathe and collapsed. The officer immediately began CPR and called for assistance, Parker said. In less than two minutes, ATCEMS arrived, and by that time bystanders were taking turns with the officer in giving chest compressions. Medics gave the runner medications and shocks from a defibrillator. The runner was transported to St. David’s Hospital, and by the time this runner got to the hospital he was able to speak, Parker said.

Just a few minutes after the call about the first cardiac arrest came in, ATCEMS was told about another runner who had collapsed at the finish line. Parker explained that Ascension Seton medical staff with 3M began CPR on that patient and ATCEMS medical team was able to arrive less than a minute after. This patient regained his pulse as well and was transferred to Dell Seton Medical Center.

ATCEMS Commander Kevin Parker wheels out a stretcher and emergency response tools which fit in the back of a special response unit. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

Parker said that quickly getting these runners CPR was “life-saving” in this case.

“Your chance of survival without CPR being done goes down about 10% for every minute you go without CPR,” Parker explained. CPR can take as little as 10 minutes to learn, Parker said, which is why his agency tries to make sure as many people in the community know how to perform it as possible.

Parker said his agency plans far in advance to have staff ready for events like the 3M marathon.

But he explained that the number of people attending the event is more of an indicator than the athletic intensity of the event of whether a medical emergency will happen. In fact, Parker noted, the runners likely have more resources nearby at a race should an emergency happen than they would out on a training run.

“Even though these two particular patients [Sunday] happened to go into cardiac arrest, it doesn’t mean that’s going to happen for a majority of people, that’s two people at this event out of at least six thousand who completed the event,” Parker said.

“And two people is unusual in this distance of an event,” he added. “It is not typical of what we see, to have two cardiac arrests [at a race].”

A statement from High Five Events who hosts the half marathon said:

“Although there were countless positive moments from yesterday, like first-time finishers, hundreds of 13.1-mile PRs, and thousands of goals met, unfortunately two participants were transported to local hospitals. Those participants received immediate medical attention because of our strategic and proactive planning and great working relationship with medical personnel. Any additional medical updates will need to be provided by immediate family.”

Perspective from a cardiologist

Dr. Stanley Wang, a cardiologist at Austin Heart who practices at Heart Hospital of Austin, explained that the response to the cardiac arrests at the half marathon shows the importance of having people trained in CPR in public settings.

“When it comes to the heart, time is tissue, and every moment you have somebody who is trained, who is close enough to the patient to deliver CPR, that can make huge amounts of differences down the road, whether it’s survival or the quality of life that results afterward,” Wang said.

Dr. Stanley Wang, a cardiologist with Austin Heart who practices at Heart Hospital of Austin, shows a replica of a human heart. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

He recommends that anyone who is able to get trained in CPR.

But Wang also explained that he also does not want people to be discouraged from participating from events like the 3M Half Marathon after hearing about these cardiac arrests.

“Because you know its really good to be physically active and doing aerobic activity like this,” Wang noted. “And people should not be afraid to do it, because fearing it and becoming inactive is even worse and will result in more heart attacks and cardiac arrests than have happened.”

“However,” Wang continued, ” if you are going to do something that is very strenuous, do think about your risk factors and do consider a preemptive evaluation if you have a lot of risk factors or any symptoms at all.”

He noted that high-intensity events are very stressful for anyone’s heart, but healthy people should be able to handle that stress. For those with underlying heart disease, participating in high-intensity events puts them at a slightly higher risk of a cardiac arrest or a heart attack.

Dr. Stanley Wang shows a diagram of arteries filled with plaque, which are at higher risk of rupturing. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

Wang cited research that shows that around 80% of heart attacks or similar events are preventable with lifestyle adjustments or medication. For doctors, he said, it helps to be able to diagnose heart disease ahead of time, but unfortunately, many people don’t notice the warning signs.

Warning signs to look out for include chest pain, chest pressure, discomfort — especially when sparked by exertion, shortness of breath, and poor stamina, Wang said.

“But again, some patients have no symptoms leading up to these kinds of events,” he noted.

For those patients, he said, it’s important to be aware of their risk factors– gathering clues by looking at blood pressure, cholesterol levels, exercise levels, diet, and family history of heart disease. In some cases, Wang said, patients can take preventative tests like an EKG or a stress test. With his patients, Wang tries to recommend scans that will detect plaque in the arteries early on.

For people looking wanting to try a major athletic event with little prior experience, Wang suggests making sure you are healthy and well beforehand.

“If they have uncontrolled high blood pressure or things like that, that needs to be addressed, preferably before getting too far into [training] he said. “Then I would start slow, it’s really important to not just jump into things. Multiple clinical trials have taught us that sudden exposure to severe stress whether it is jumping into freezing cold water or suddenly starting too much exercise, can increase the risk that you trigger some sort of cardiac event.”

“Start slow, listen to your body, if there are cardiac symptoms that develop as you progress through exercise, do pay attention to those, get those checked out, but most importantly, just keep in mind that heart disease can be silent before we start so just be sure you’re aware of your risk factors,” he said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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