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Sudden Cardiac Arrest Survival Rate Is Rising

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Twice, Emily Cranny's teenage heart stopped.

First while playing field games at church camp last October, then while attending a graduation ceremony in June.

"She's cheated death twice," said her mother, Mary.

An implantable defibrillator monitors that heart now. It saved her life the second time.

Emily and others like her who have suffered sudden cardiac arrest can take hope in a study published today. It shows that survival rates in King County are improving for people who suffered sudden cardiac arrest outside of hospitals.

"It appears that people are doing better and better over time," said lead researcher Dr. Thomas Rea, an epidemiologist with Public Health -- Seattle & King County and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington.

Researchers grouped the data, culled from 2,035 patients discharged from King County hospitals between 1976 and 2001, in five-year intervals. Total deaths declined an average of 13 percent with each passing period. And heart-related deaths decreased 21 percent.

The findings were reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops beating, with death possibly minutes away. It kills about 680 Americans each day.

Victims here have a better chance of making it to the hospital alive because a high percentage of people in the Seattle area are trained in CPR.

The study couldn't specify the reasons behind the improved survival rates, but Rea suggested better drugs, lifestyle changes such as no smoking and healthy eating, and interventions such as implantable defibrillators.

Emily, an athletic 14-year-old who loves soccer, had no history of illness, no previous heart conditions. A camp nurse and paramedics came to her rescue the first time. Doctors diagnosed a congenital defect and cautioned her against competitive sports.

She was forced to give up soccer, but still helps her father coach her little sister's team.

On another field earlier this year, this time in Gig Harbor, Jill and Steve Martin were coaching soccer when Jill collapsed. Ten-year-old daughter Josie called 911 while Steve Martin started CPR. Josie's teammates flagged down a car, coincidentally with an anesthesiologist inside. He rushed over to help, shortly followed by the paramedics with a defibrillator.

Jill Martin, 37, still doesn't know the cause of the cardiac arrest, but she has an implantable defibrillator now. She's stopped playing soccer and just returned to running several months ago.

Faith largely saved her, she said.

Jill and her husband had been required to learn CPR to host the foster daughter who was living with them at the time.

Martin wants more places to stock automated external defibrillators. Cranny wishes more people would learn CPR. Neither likes the device lodged in their bodies.

But neither lets it get in their way.

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