Why Did My Wife Have Cardiac Arrest During Surgery?


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With all of the advancements that have been made in the medical field, surgical procedures have become a routine occurrence in our society. While it is great that modern medicine has the ability to remedy so many conditions and problems, it is easy to get swept up in the magic of everything and forget that surgery also comes with some major risks.

Even the most routine procedures can come with potential dangers. One of the most publicized incidents in recent times was the death of comedian Joan Rivers during an outpatient endoscopy procedure at a New York medical clinic. The 81-year-old patient went into cardiac arrest during the procedure, and the incident took her life. While this is a devastating example to consider, there are some important details we should learn from her situation.

What is cardiac arrest?

Cardiac arrest is a condition where the heart suddenly stops beating. It can happen instantly or occur not long after symptoms begin to appear. In cardiac arrest, the heart’s electrical system malfunctions unexpectedly. This malfunction disturbs the pumping action of the heart, which also restricts blood flow and oxygen to the rest of the body.

Arrhythmias are defined as abnormal heartbeats – the heart may be beating too quickly, too slowly or irregularly. When the rate and rhythm of an individual’s heartbeat is impacted, cardiac arrest can occur. Other risk factors for this severe condition include:

  • Heart disease
  • Heart medications
  • Prior heart attack
  • Scarred or enlarged heart
  • Thickened heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
  • Blood vessel abnormalities
  • Electrical abnormalities (Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome and Long QT syndrome)

How common is cardiac arrest during surgery?

While medical professionals indicate that the occurrence of cardiac arrest during surgery is rare, this does not diminish the severity of this devastating condition. A medical article published in 2015 specifically looked at the incidence of cardiac arrest cases that occurred before, during and after an operation. According to the research findings in this document, the overall risk of cardiac arrest was 5.6 per 10,000 cases. Additionally, the rate of cardiac arrest occurrences increased with the age of patients, and this condition was also more commonly experienced by males.

Unfortunately, the same medical article we just referenced also indicated that 58.5% of the cardiac arrests they looked at resulted in mortality. Cardiac arrest is a destructive condition. For those who survive an incidence of cardiac arrest, brain damage and impaired consciousness are seen in the majority of these individuals.

What steps do you take now?

Even though cardiac arrest may not be the biggest risk during surgical procedures, it does not negate the fact that it still happens. If your wife suffered from cardiac arrest during surgery, your life has already been impacted by this possibility.

While you cannot undo what has already transpired, you can do your due diligence to ensure your wife was properly taken care of. Was a complete medical history documented prior to the surgery? If your wife exhibited any of the major risk factors, proper precautions should have been taken. Were the necessary steps implemented once cardiac arrest began, and did your wife receive proper medical attention immediately? Medical research indicates that the majority of patients are able to recover quickly and fully from cardiac arrest if their heartbeat was resumed within two to five minutes. If the brain is deprived of oxygen for longer than eight minutes, significant brain damage or death are usually the end result.

Our team of doctors and lawyers can work alongside you to help determine if your wife’s condition could have been prevented or treated more efficiently- if you contact us. While cardiac arrest can happen spontaneously, the possibilities of error or negligence should be ruled out as well.

About the Author

With more than 20 years of experience as a physician, Dr. Gerald B. Parker brings a unique perspective as a Philadelphia doctor-lawyer to Ross Feller Casey.

Gerald Parker, III

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