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Sunday, May 22, 2011

What can happen when someone helps.

BEND, Ore. -- It happens quickly -- and half of the time, without warning. Sudden cardiac death is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S.

And it can happen to anyone, even active people like Jim Belfatto.

"If you see ESPN on TV, it's the same thing where these guys drop dead suddenly. Same thing. No one was there to help them," said Jim Belfatto.

But there was someone to help him.

A year ago, Belfatto went into cardiac arrest while working out at a local gym. But because of the quick action of bystanders trained in CPR and knowledgeable in using an AED, he was brought back to life.

Two days later, doctors at the Heart Center implanted an ICD -- an Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator.
"It's more of a governor, so if I get revved up over 190 (heartbeats per minute), it will shock me and kick in -- and that's what would save my life in the future," said Belfatto.

These devices have made strides in the past 25 years. For the past four years, patients in Central Oregon have been able to receive this treatment more readily with 2 full time electrophysiologists in town.

Doctors implant over 100 devices in patients locally each year, and many lives have been saved.

"its a machine that's kind of like a pacemaker," said Dr. James Laughlin, electrophysiologist at The Heart Center in Bend. "It also can slow heartbeats down, but the purpose of a defibrillator is to protect patients from dangerous fast heart rhythms."

Laughlin performed the ICD surgery on Belfatto. He says half the cases of cardiac arrest happen to patients with preexisting heart problems and heart disease. But Belfatto's case falls in the other half.

"The other half like the patient in our story yesterday, had no warning that he was at risk. It just happened suddenly, and the reasons for that remain unclear," said Laughlin.

The best thing experts say to do, while keeping up a good diet and exercise plan and visiting a primary care physician, is to remain educated, in order to take care of yourself and take action when your help is needed.

Though doctors helped Jim Belfatto get back to normal, it was a bystander trained in CPR who initially gave him a fighting chance.
"I'm just grateful for the people working out with me and saved me," said Belfatto. "I survived 16 minutes of CPR, took an ambulance 16 minutes to get to me. Without them, I'm not here today."

Again, it doesn't take a doctor to help save someone going into cardiac death. Medical professionals stress the importance of learning CPR.

The man who gave life support to Belfatto, Todd Lushin, was a volunteer with the Mt. Bachelor National Ski Patrol and was just passing by when Belfatto collapsed. He was later awarded a Merit Star by the national organization for his quick, life-saving action.