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Automatic CPR tested at St. Paul’s

By Eric MacKenzie

A portable, automatic chest-compression device will be used by paramedics on patients treated under a new ECMO-CPR trial being conducted by St. Paul’s Hospital and BC Emergency Health Services. 
Providence Health Care Photo

A portable, automatic chest-compression device will be used by paramedics on patients treated under a new ECMO-CPR trial being conducted by St. Paul’s Hospital and BC Emergency Health Services. Providence Health Care Photo

A new trial being conducted at St. Paul’s Hospital using automatic CPR devices is being hailed as having the potential to greatly increase the survival rate of individuals experiencing cardiac arrest away from the hospital.

The trial, taking place in partnership with BC Emergency Health Services, sees joint efforts of both paramedics and a cardio team at the hospital to provide patients with “rapid CPR” before they reach St. Paul’s, as well as in-hospital therapy that allows doctors to focus more exclusively on the cause of a cardiac arrest.

Currently, less than 15% of patients suffering a cardiac arrest away from a hospital setting survive, but it’s hoped that survival rate could triple through the use of ECMO-CPR (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation.)

Dr. William Dick, VP of medical programs for BC EHS, said this ECMO-CPR trial is unique compared to others being tried in the United States because it involves a co-ordinated approach between pre-hospital and in-hospital care teams.

“St. Paul’s ... really stepped up and said ‘OK, we’ll be able to provide this service 24 hours a day,’” said Dick.

“It’s pretty exciting. I’m pretty pumped about this whole concept.”

Normally, paramedics responding to a cardiac arrest work to resuscitate a patient before transporting them to hospital, as Dick said it’s too difficult for paramedics to effectively give CPR in a moving ambulance. During the trial, first responders will attach a portable, automatic chest-compression system to patients, helping them get to hospital more quickly while paramedics can focus on other care.

At St. Paul’s, the ECMO machine – an external pump that acts as the patient’s heart and lungs – is put to work while doctors try to fix the cause of the incident.

ECMO-CPR will be used on otherwise healthy patients aged 18 to 65 during the trial, which is the first of its kind nationwide and is expected to last two years.