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New CPR policy in place for Kanawha medics

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County emergency officials hope a new way of treating heart attacks will save lives.

From now on, medics in Kanawha County who respond to patients in cardiac arrest will perform CPR for at least 20 minutes before transporting the patient to a hospital, said Dr. John Turley, medical director for the Kanawha County Ambulance Authority.

"Historically the way [cardiac arrest] patients were handled is, quickly loaded into the ambulance and hurried to hospital as fast as we could get there, and [medics] attempted to do CPR in the back of the ambulance," Turley said.

But research has shown that in the rush to get patients to the hospital, medics in ambulances were not doing effective CPR, Turley said.

Medics transporting patients also were losing valuable time that instead could be used for CPR, Turley said. During cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly stops beating, causing the loss of blood flow to the body, minutes are critical, he said.

Survival rates for cardiac arrest are low -- around 5 percent nationwide, Turley said. However, that survival rate increases to 12 percent when CPR is administered at the scene for at least 20 minutes, he said.

Ambulance officials plan to announce the procedure change at a news conference Tuesday, but the change went into effect Monday, Turley said.

"We're doing an announcement because it seems counterintuitive, not going to the hospital as soon as possible," Turley said. "But spending more time onsite doing the CPR, the patient has a better chance of long-term survival."

Medics from the Charleston Fire Department also are implementing the new procedure, Turley said.

Kanawha County transports 140 cardiac arrest patients each year, not including the number transported by city officials, Turley said.

"The data are clear that this really improves survival rates for patients," he said.

As a way of getting the word out about the new policy, the Kanawha County Ambulance Authority is putting a vinyl decal on the back of all the county ambulances. The decals are eight inches in diameter and have a picture of a red and white clock, EKG lines and the phrase ":20 for Life." Ambulance Authority employee Carolyn Charnock designed the logos.

The phrase "20 minutes for life" also is the name that officials have given the new policy.

The logos are to "make the public aware that we have the ongoing program and a change in philosophy," Turley said. "We want to keep the public informed. We don't want to surprise anyone.

"We want to let them know why were doing these things," he said.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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