Individuals are the Numerator with SCA Saves

Anne Kelly’s piece, Odds of Surviving Cardiac Arrest Unchanged (KFYR-TV 12/9/09), accentuates disturbing and, perhaps, counter-productive figures related to out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Kelly cites national Sudden Cardiac Arrest survival rates and stubborn statistical data that industry insiders see time and time again – Out-of-hospital survival rates are less than 5%, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Correctly, Kelly correlates this “stagnant” data to poor and/or inadequate training, even in the face in increased awareness and deployment of life-saving Automated External Defibrillators (AED Units).

Kelly fails to mention, however, that “minor” adjustments to a numerator in any equation wherein the denominator is large, will provide a similar quotient to that which was previously calculated. That is, since SCA kills approximately 350,000 people each year (a HUGE denominator) and only 5% are saved (17,500; a SMALL numerator, relative to the denominator) to see a one-percent adjustment in survival rates, 3,500 new lives must be saved! When stepping away from the long-division and humanizing the math, 3,500 people becomes a meaningful number of lives. For reference, UNICEF reports that child abuse leads to 3,500 child deaths each year.

For arguments sake, let us assume that we’re rounding to the hundreds place – after all, these are just numbers, right? Saving an additional 1,749 lives would result in just under a 0.5% increase to national survival rates, yielding a new quotient of …. 5%!!! (17,500 + 1,749 = 19,249 / 350,000 = 5%) Therefore, when we look at a societal problem such as SCA, far-and-away America’s greatest killer and one that is preventable in most cases (studies indicate with early defibrillation survival rates can exceed 70%), we mustn’t be concerned with national averages unless we’re also prepared to weigh the humanistic reality of the numbers – the numerator. Regularly speaking with SCA Survivors gives me strong reason to believe that they’d like to be counted as more than 0.00028% or a part of the Numerator in a division problem. So I ask, are the daily SCA saves meaningful and are AED units and wide-spread CPR training making a difference or are they irrelevant, leaving the national averages “unchanged?”

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17 comments on “Individuals are the Numerator with SCA Saves
  1. George Newman says:

    I think these numbers truly show how important widespread education in CPR/AED really is.

    While only 5% of the 350,000 people killed each year from sudden cardiac arrest survive that is still a huge number and truly an accomplishment. As mentioned in the Article early defibrillation is key in increasing the odds of survival. I think the best solution to improving the odds of survival are for more communities and businesses to ensure that AEDs are available when needed.

    My workplace recently trained an emergency response team in CPR/AED use and provided us with two AEDs. We enjoyed the training and honestly the office feels like a safer place!

  2. Perry M. says:

    Another thought provoking post by Annuvia. I am sure the family and friends of that 5% think that AED/CPR education is highly relevant.
    Rather than focusing on this “stagnant” statistic, why not focus on how many lives could be saved if more people were adequately trained to use and deploy AEDs?

  3. Thank you for your post George. We’re happy to hear that your workplace feels comfortable responding in the event of an emergency. We always find that in the weeks following a great, hands-on training session, individuals feel prepared to respond. My suggestion moving forward is to keep up the momentum and keep your team motivated. Often this can be done with one-off drills and exercises, group “brown bag” meetings, and practicing your emergency call-out procedures. The more motivated to respond the more likely they’ll respond. Great work!

  4. Perry M, your feedback is much appreciated and we’re glad we were able to be “thought provoking.” The problem with such instances is that typically the response, while in this case “thought provoking” :), may make only a small dent in the original message.

  5. Mr. N Body says:

    Do you have a citation for the 350,000 figure? The best I can find is page 11, but notes there are a range of estimates, and no specific numbers (ie, CDC does not call it out; seems to be blended in with the rest of heart disease).

  6. Mr. N,
    You’re absolutely correct, there are a whole host of numbers provided and the ranges can vary significantly. We typically refer to the 350,000 figure as it seems to rest in the middle of the estimates and is more commonly cited by sources we deem to be most credible. The rates vary based on items such as in-hospital deaths, out-of-hospital deaths, V-Fib, V-Tach, MIs leading to SCA, etc. Please see:

    350,000 deaths due to SCA


    450,000 deaths due to SCA (Zheng Z, Croft J, Giles W, Mensah G. Sudden cardiac death in the United States, 1989-1998. Circulation. 2001;104:2158-2163)

    If you’re interested in learning more about the relevant citations, please feel free to contact us at and we’ll send you a white paper on the subject. Included are 36 citations to peer-reviewed studies, articles, statutes, and more. In your email, please reference “five defibrillator drivers” and note the best shipping address.

    Thanks for your interest!

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