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N.M. cardiologist, medics save woman in cardiac arrest during CPR training

Cardiologist Barry Ramo, founder of Project Heart Start, started compressions on the woman as 200-300 people were engaged in training

By Ollie Reed
Albuquerque Journal

ALBUQUERQUE, N.N. — No one plans cardiac arrest, but if it could be done you’d want to have a prominent cardiologist nearby. Some paramedics would be handy, too.

When a woman went into apparent cardiac arrest Saturday morning during cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR, training at the Pit, most of the 200 to 300 people attending the morning session were too engaged in the instruction to notice.

But cardiologist Barry Ramo, the founder of the CPR training known as Project Heart Start, was right there.

“Someone said this woman was not feeling well,” Ramo said. “I looked over and saw this lady, 70 to 75 years old, sitting on a ledge at the side of the Pit. I walked over and she looked ashen. While I was talking to her, she listed to the right. I grabbed her. There were four paramedics with me and we put her on the ground.”

Ramo said the woman had no pulse.

“I don’t know what happened to her, but it was consistent with someone having cardiac arrest,” he said.

Cardiac arrest, which is the sudden loss of all heart activity due to an irregular heart rhythm, kills more than 400,000 people a year.

Ramo started compression, hands-only CPR, on the woman. After one-and-a-half to two minutes, the woman regained consciousness and was transported to a hospital.

She has not been identified for privacy reasons.

Ramo said he has spoken to the woman and she told him she is feeling OK, but she remains hospitalized while her doctors do tests to determine exactly what happened to her.

“When it happened, people were pumping the hearts of (CPR practice) dummies,” he said. “They probably thought it was part of the show.”

Even though the incident was not part of the training, Ramo said it definitely provided a lesson.

“You never know when cardiac arrest is going to occur, so you need to know how to do CPR,” he said. “If someone has cardiac arrest and you do nothing, the survival rate drops off 10% per minute. If you are doing CPR, it drops only 3% per minute.

“Obviously, it’s ideal when you have paramedics and a cardiologist there.”

Ramo is director of New Heart Fitness and Health, a fitness, cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation center, and founder of the New Mexico Heart Institute, now part of the Lovelace Medical Group. He also is a longtime medical reporter with Albuquerque’s KOAT-TV.

Realizing that a lot of out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest deaths could be prevented if average citizens knew how to administer CPR, Ramo started Project Heart Start 13 years ago.

The program provides free instruction in hands-only CPR, using Automated External Defibrillators, or AEDs, saving a choking victim and recognizing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.

During Saturday’s program at the Pit, members of the University of New Mexico’s women’s swimming team, soccer team and volleyball team and a couple of players on the men’s basketball team were on hand to assist in training and provide encouragement.

Ramo said the goal is to get everyone in New Mexico, or as many state residents as possible, trained to administer CPR. He said that in 2017, he worked with the state Legislature to make CPR training mandatory for high school graduation, but that has not been widely implemented in New Mexico’s schools.

“In no other medical emergency is the treatment provided by a layperson the most critical part of saving a person’s life,” Ramo said. “Eighty percent of sudden cardiac arrests happen at home, so chances are you will be treating a family member.”

Saturday’s incident was not the first time Ramo was called on to administer CPR in the Pit. In the ‘90s, he did it during a basketball game there.

“Those were the days when they’d say, ‘Could a doctor go to Section 34?’” Ramo said. “There was another doctor with me. We did CPR on a man for 20 minutes.” The man survived.

“At least five times in my life, I’ve had to administer CPR in out-of-hospital situations,” Ramo said.

“People hate to go to dinner with me.”

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