Sept. 14--The survival rate in Ventura County for full cardiac arrests, where the heart stops pumping and the person clinically dies, skied above the national rate in 2012, ranking high on a national registry.
An online database showed 14 percent of the 364 people who suffered cardiac arrests in Ventura County last year survived. Of the 25,115 cardiac arrests reported voluntarily by 400 emergency medical services agencies nationwide, 10 percent of the people survived.
"That's pretty darn good," said Lynn White, education director of the Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival, reacting to the county numbers. "I think the highest I've ever seen is 17 percent."
The percentages grow higher when the cardiac arrests are witnessed by observers able to administer CPR. In Ventura County, 44 percent of the victims survived in situations where passers-by offered aid, leading to trained responders shocking the heart back to life.
The registry does not reveal the exact national ranking but the 44 percent rate betters the national mark of 37 percent. It also ranks in the top five of the 47 regions in the registry served by American Medical Response, said White, who works as an administrator with the Colorado-based ambulance company.
Emergency medical officials in Ventura County attribute the survival rate to teamwork, efforts to train bystanders in CPR and a system that sends victims to the handful of hospitals most prepared to deal with them.
"If you're destined to have a cardiac arrest, have it in Ventura County. You'll be better off," said Dr. Vishva Dev, medical director of cardiology at Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks.
That a 14-percent survival rate is a source of praise shows the nature of cardiac arrests.
"Any delay in the processing of a 911 call and that ability to access a patient will reduce the likelihood of survival," said Dr. Angelo Salvucci, medical director of Ventura County Emergency Medical Services. "When the heart is stopped and there is no blood circulating, the tissues begin to die immediately. The brain and the heart are the most sensitive."
The county-coordinated response system pivots on ambulance crews, fire departments, dispatch centers and hospitals all working together, Salvucci said.
"Our biggest increase in survival came after we required all our paramedics and EMTs -- approximately 1,000 people -- to be trained in high performance CPR," he said.
Another key is the efforts to train county residents everywhere in CPR, though some observers see room for improvement.
"We as a community should insist that CPR training should be mandatory for high school graduation," said Dev.
Hospitals use hypothermia therapy, where the body temperature of a patient is reduced to 90 degrees in an effort to minimize brain damage. Ventura County Fire Department dispatchers give spur-of-the-moment instructions on CPR so people who report a cardiac arrest on a 911 call can give immediate assistance. Firefighters who were once certified every two years in CPR are now tested every six months.
On the last Saturday of December, Ryan Sevy of Simi Valley climbed into bed after a night of training at a firefighter's academy. At 3 a.m., the now 32-year-old emergency medical technician rose to give a friend a ride to a dialysis center. He returned home for a few more hours of sleep before church.
He had no history of heart problems. He worked out four times a week. For reasons doctors cannot fully explain, his heart stopped pumping about 11 a.m.
His friend Justin Estrada came by because his car wouldn't start. He realized something was wrong. John Brewer, Sevy's roommate, was trained in CPR. He started pushing on his friend's chest.
Ventura County firefighters arrived in minutes. Then an ambulance crew came.