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Updated Jul 30, 2014 - 6:43 am

Arizona cardiac arrest program credited with saving many lives

Jose Garcia speaks at the Arizona Department of Health Services. (Bob McClay/KTAR Photo)

PHOENIX -- A study published Thursday in the Annals of Emergency Medicine says a system being used at Arizona hospitals has saved the lives of countless cardiac arrest patients.

Thanks to big help from a lot of people, a West Valley man is alive to tell his story.

It was last summer that 43-year-old Jose Garcia was at his home in Goodyear when his entire life changed.

"I was on my recliner working on a project," said Garcia. "My wife said that I called out her name and went into cardiac arrest."

Both Garcia and his wife had just taken CPR classes, so she knew just what to do. She called 911, then gave Jose some 300 to 400 chest compressions.

"She immediately went to work," Garcia said. "My face turned different colors, she said. She just went on and was my first angel. My second angel was the 911 operator."

Paramedics rushed Garcia to West Valley Hospital.

Dr. Daniel Spaite, the director of EMS research at the University of Arizona Emergency Medicine Research Center, said that Garcia was lucky.

"If you're going to drop dead, Arizona is the state to do it in," said Spaite.

That's because of the Save Hearts Arizona Registration and Education Program, or S.H.A.R.E. It's a statewide network of cardiac programs involving more than 30 hospitals and 100 fire departments in Arizona.

Spaite co-authored the study that says that under the program, the survival rate of Arizona cardiac arrest patients jumped 60 percent from 2007 to 2010.

"We're talking scores of patients who have been saved just since the start of this who would not have been saved under the old system," explained Spaite.

The program puts an emphasis on, among other things, CPR and 911 operator training and the use of cooling a patient's body as soon as they arrive at the hospital.

Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble said the program uses cutting edge guidelines for post-cardiac arrest care that includes a lot of survival training.

"[It trains] 911 dispatchers to recognize symptoms of cardiac arrest and gives the dispatcher the tools that they need to implement...while they're on the phone with someone who is witnessing a cardiac arrest," said Humble.

Dr. Ben Bobrow is the co-lead author of the survey. He said that one of the important things to remember is that there is a difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest.

A heart attack happens when a blocked artery prevents blood from reaching a section of the heart. A cardiac arrest is triggered by an electrical malfunction that causes an irregular heartbeat. It occurs suddenly and often without warning.

In Garcia's case, he was otherwise perfectly healthy and no signs of any heart problems had been detected. He was back home seven days after suffering cardiac arrest.

"I'm very lucky and very fortunate. It's because of the work that they (the doctors and hospitals) have done, my wife, and the 911 operator," said Garcia, who became emotional as he spoke. "It took a team to literally have me standing here today. I'm very appreciative. I'm glad that I could come here today and talk about what happened, because they do fabulous work, and I'm a prime example."

About the Author

Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I live in north Phoenix with my wife Rene' and my son Devin.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: My Dad took me to see Jimmy Dean at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in the 1960's. It was before the Coliseum was built. The only thing I remember is Jimmy Dean singing his big hit "Big Bad John."

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Shiloh Community Church in Phoenix. Devin is a high school student at Scottsdale Christian Academy. He plays on the baseball, football, and basketball teams and sings in the choir. Obviously, we keep busy trying to go to all his events! We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and long road trips. We like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.


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