By Katie Fallon
A local rheumatologist has made CPR education his priority since his own heart crisis put him in the position of being the patient instead of doctor.
Dr. Sam Schatten, a Sandy Springs resident, formed the CLEAR (Cardiac Life Extension and Rescue) Coalition in April of last year after he went into cardiac arrest at a bar mitzvah the previous December. Since then, he and the coalition have served as an advocacy group for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the benefits of having access to an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).
Schatten’s journey began at what should have been a joyous occasion.
“I was perfectly healthy until December 10, 2005,” Schatten said. “I was dancing at a bar mitzvah and I got very dizzy and my heart stopped. I went into cardiac arrest.”
Fortunately for Schatten, three doctor friends were attending the same bar mitzvah and were able to perform CPR and revive the 53-year-old father of four sons. When he arrived at Piedmont Hospital, Schatten said doctors initially thought he had a blood clot, but it turned out to be cancer that was blocking his pulmonary artery.
“Six days later, the surgeons took out this big mass that turned out to be a pulmonary artery sarcoma, which is a very rare type of cancer,” Schatten said. “Because of that, I got chemotherapy and radiation and subsequently went into radiation, but I’ve had a recurrence now.”
Although Schatten is now waiting for a heart transplant because of microscopic cancer cells remaining in his heart, he has continued his work with his coalition, which he formed by teaming up with a friend who he said has been advocating for CPR and AED education since 1996.
In fact, that work has continued in the face of further health complications. After surgery on July 9, Schatten experienced his second cardiac arrest on July 10. In that case, his life was saved by a defibrillator. Despite all that, he has remained clear on his goals for the CLEAR Coalition.
“It’s a grassroots effort,” Schatten said. “Our goal is to make CPR and AED education widespread and the purchase of AED’s widespread. We want Georgia to be the leading state in the country in two years…to be the model state for how CPR and AED education should be for the whole country.”
Schatten explained that the reason he is focusing on CPR and AED education is because both have now saved his life and the two processes perform different functions. An AED, for instance, would not have helped Schatten during his first cardiac crisis.
“An AED only works when you have a certain arrhythmia that needs to be defibrillated. It’ll shock you back to a normal rhythm,” he said. “But if you put on the AED and that’s not the problem, it won’t do anything. My problem was there wasn’t even any blood flow going to my heart. That’s why you need to know both CPR and how to use an AED.”
Currently, the CLEAR Coalition has remained in an advocacy capacity. Once it obtains its 501(c)3 nonprofit status, it can accept donations to purchase AED’s to distribute in the community. In the last few months, the group has donated four AED’s and will also use the next legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly to further promote getting more AED’s in more public places.
“Many government places have them,” Schatten said of the portable defibrillators. “Our eventual goal is that all businesses of a certain size will be mandated to have them and within 10 years, just like every home has a fire extinguisher, we want every home to have small AED’s when the price becomes more reasonable.”
The average price of an AED, according to Schatten, now averages around $1,300, which is an improvement from the $2,100 to $2,200 average of the recent past.
Schatten, however, is not alone in his local efforts to spread the word about the importance of AED’s.
The Sandy Springs Fire Rescue Department sponsors both AED and CPR training and the city’s medical director, Dr. Ian Greenwald, has urged residents to petition public places to install the lifesaving units.
“AED’s are used in life-threatening cases of cardiac arrhythmias, which may lead, or have lead to cardiac arrest,” Greenwald said in May. “These devices should be present in all buildings where large crowds gather, such as City Hall, movie theaters, parks and shopping areas, where they can be within a brisk walk for someone to get the device and start performing the life –saving measures.”
Greenwald also pointed out the distinction that AED’s are not a guaranteed lifesaver. He said they are not designed to shock “flat-lined” individuals, or those with an asystole heart pattern. Those patients’ chances of surviving their crisis can come only through a combination of CPR and cardiac drugs, which can then produce a shockable rhythm. For every minute that a person in cardiac arrest goes untreated, the chance of survival decreases by 10 percent.
Similarly, Schatten said that if someone collapses on the street in cardiac arrest, their chance of survival even with CPR from a bystander while waiting for emergency medical personnel is 1 to 3 percent. That survival rate, though, increases dramatically if an AED is available nearby.
“If you have an AED present and you can use it within three or four minutes, the survival rate goes up to over 50 percent,” Schatten said. “That’s a huge number.”
For more information on the efforts of the CLEAR Coalition, visit www.clearcoalition.com and for more information on scheduling CPR or AED training with the city, call the Sandy Springs Fire Rescue Department at 770-730-5600.