Celebrity Cardiac Arrest

and a lot of times the media got it wrong

Far Too Many…Far Too Soon….

and a lot of times the media got it wrong

2016 took away so many artists, celebrities, and public figures who, throughout their careers, made us laugh, cry and sometimes made us feel emotions we didn’t know we were capable of feeling. Sadly, the list seems far too long: Prince, David Bowie, George Michael, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Alan Rickman, Alan Thicke, John Glenn, Florence Henderson, Leonard Cohen, Kevin Meaney, Arnold Palmer, Jose Fernandez, Gene Wilder, Garry Marshall, Antonin Scalia, Glenn Frey, Muhammad Ali, Doris Roberts, Merle Haggard, Patty Duke, Gary Shandling, and Nancy Reagan. Abe Vigoda can no longer dispute news of his death, and most recently Carrie Fisher died after going into cardiac arrest on a flight. So to sum up – too many amazing musicians, Raymond’s mom, Mrs. Brady, Willy Wonka, and an intergalactic princess all left this mortal coil within one year, along with countless others who influenced the world. While some had simply succumbed to old age (Zsa Zsa was 99!), others left us much too early. George Michael was 53, Prince 57, Kevin Meaney was 60, Alan Thicke a spry 69, and Carrie Fisher was only 60. Drug overdoses, cancer, car accidents, and “heart attacks” took celebrities from us this year. But it is the last cause of death, purposely put in quotation marks, which is of the greatest concern.

People do not die of heart attacks. People die of cardiac arrest. A person having a heart attack can walk, talk, and speak. They may be in grave discomfort with chest pain, nausea, dizziness, back pain, and numbness of the left arm, but they are conscious. Comedian Kevin Meaney was found at home on his couch and was reported to have died of a heart attack. No, he died of cardiac arrest. Carrie Fisher was repeatedly reported as having died from a heart attack she suffered on a flight from London to Los Angeles. No, if she was unresponsive, not breathing, and receiving CPR, she had gone into sudden cardiac arrest. There has been no mention of an AED being used, even though the FAA does require them on airplanes which weigh more than 7,500 pounds each and have at least one flight attendant. It would have been standard protocol for them to employ the AED in a situation where someone was doing CPR unless there was a problem with the plane’s unit. Reports are stating she was not breathing for 10 minutes. Even if EMTs used a defibrillator as part of the “advanced life support” she received upon landing, and they got a heartbeat back (which they reportedly did), her outlook was bleak from the start because the brain begins to die within 4-6 minutes of the onset of cardiac arrest due to lack of oxygen.

Why are we going on and on about this? Because the media at large repeatedly and incorrectly use the terms “heart attack” and “sudden cardiac arrest” interchangeably. They are two completely different events. The first is treatable in many different forms, while the latter has only one course of treatment – CPR and defibrillation. Heart attack patients can usually tell you what’s wrong and there is time to get them to a hospital, while a cardiac arrest victim is unconscious and relying on those around them to intervene properly and quickly in order to survive. Sudden cardiac arrest may occur as a result of damage caused by a heart attack, but not all heart attacks result in sudden cardiac arrest and death. The general public needs to be made aware of these distinct differences in order to know what to do if they come upon someone in cardiac arrest.  

In November 2016 a study was released recently which focused on consumer awareness of cardiac arrest. Following is a quote from that article which sums up the problem concisely: “Our research indicates there is an urgent need to create a uniform definition of sudden cardiac arrest in consumer-friendly language and to use it consistently across organizations, the medical community, and the media,” said Mary Newman, MS, of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation. “An integrated marketing, communications and outreach plan at a national level is of utmost importance if we are to increase survival from sudden cardiac arrest.”

So come on, media, dig a little deeper and use the proper medical terminology. If someone died of cancer and you said it was diabetes, there would be some serious backlash. There should be in these instances as well. Let’s all work together to educate as many people as possible about the signs, symptoms, and treatment of cardiac arrest.  

For more on this subject, see:

Heart Attack and Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Warning Signs of SCA and a Heart Attack

What is a Heart Attack

What Happens after Sudden Cardiac Arrest

10 Responses to “Celebrity Cardiac Arrest”

January 18, 2017 at 7:31 am, Ginny said:

Human Resource & First Responder at a manufacturing company. This is great information and I will share it with our First Responder Group.

Thank you


January 18, 2017 at 9:41 am, Claude Albertario said:

Actually, since there are now simple ECG apps and phone cases with clutchable pads to obtain a very crude simple ECG, it would make sense to have a SCA app that would allow algorithmic recognition of SCA using one of these devices, and said app would initiate a prompt to call emergency services upon recognizing and recording the waveforms in question.
It cannot provide shock, but it can help identify and prompt for help. They should not be dead-end ECG recorders. What a waste.

[No affiliation with any of these ECG vendors.]


January 19, 2017 at 3:08 pm, AED Superstore said:

Claude – thanks for sharing those videos. Those apps look like they could come in handy in certain scenarios, but it would not be advisable to take the time to get out your phone, find the app, try to find the rhythm, etc. if you come across someone who is non-responsive and not breathing (the first two signs someone is in cardiac arrest) before calling 911. Early CPR is critical, and early defibrillation is key to survival. The AED will monitor the rhythm and won’t shock unless someone needs a shock. And you can never go wrong by calling 911, even if you aren’t sure if they just fainted or passed out. They may have an underlying condition requiring medical attention in those instances as well. But if they are unresponsive and not breathing, you should definitely call 911 and begin CPR immediately. That said – cool app and electrodes! Wish they made it for more than just the iPhone, though.


January 18, 2017 at 10:44 am, Steven Bentley said:

Thank you, well written. As BLS/ALS instructors we clarify the difference at the beginning of each class, thanks to the ignorance of Hollywood and the media.


January 18, 2017 at 11:18 am, S. Mamidi said:

All deaths are from cardiac arrest. Not just heart attack. No death occurs without cardiac arrest.
When one says person died of cardiac arrest, it does not tell the cause of death. In my understanding cardiac arrest is the common final event of death resulting from any event. Weather its cancer, stroke or accident.


January 18, 2017 at 3:10 pm, AED Superstore said:

Thank you for your comment. In our article, we are pointing out the differences between a heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest, not just cardiac arrest.


January 18, 2017 at 11:30 am, Colin Riddiough said:

Great article.


January 18, 2017 at 12:24 pm, Neva said:

I will share this at a safety meeting. You put it so plainly making it very understandable.


January 18, 2017 at 2:02 pm, Nancy said:

Thank you so much for affirming what I am teaching! It is my goal in each class to emphasize this exact thing! They are two completely different conditions! I am a volunteer Instructor for the American Red cross and I take what I do very seriously, including communicating the most up-to-date accurate information to my students. Thank you for this excellent article!


January 18, 2017 at 2:13 pm, AED Superstore said:

It is in everyone’s best interest to know the difference between heart attack and cardiac arrest. We shall continue to spread the word.


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