Talking Heart Awareness with U of M

Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in the United States. According to Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundationthere are more than 356,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests each year in the United States and nearly 90% of them are fatal.

For National Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month in October, Demetri YannopoulosMD, with the University of Minnesota Medical School and M Health Fairview, talks about cardiac arrest symptoms and innovation in care in Minnesota.

Q: What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
Dr. Yannopoulos: Sudden cardiac arrest is a mechanical malfunction of the heart that is immediate and unexpected. The result is that blood stops pumping throughout your body and the ability to deliver oxygen to vital organs such as your brain is compromised. This results in someone suddenly becoming unresponsive and requiring immediate action, such as calling 911 and providing CPR. According to the American Heart Association, survival from sudden cardiac arrest is about 10% nationwide. In areas like Minnesota, where the Center for Resuscitation Medicine has focused efforts to improve outcomes through a system-wide approach, survival can be as high as 40% in cases where early recognition and proximity CPR are presented.

Q: What are the symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest? Are they different from a heart attack?
Dr. Yannopoulos: The main symptom of sudden cardiac arrest is sudden loss of consciousness with no breathing or pulse. Some patients have heart attacks before or during their sudden cardiac arrest. As such, heart attacks – blocked arteries in the heart – are a common cause of sudden death. A person suffering from a heart attack may have chest pain; weakness; jaw, neck or back discomfort; and shortness of breath. A heart attack can trigger an electrical malfunction leading to cardiac arrest.

Q: Are the symptoms of cardiac arrest different for men and women?
Dr. Yannopoulos: Symptoms of cardiac arrest are the same for men and women, however, heart attack symptoms can vary. Most heart attack symptoms are the same and include chest pain and weakness or dizziness. Women may be more susceptible to back pain, nausea, and shortness of breath. If you have symptoms you should be assessed or if symptoms are obvious call 911. In the event of cardiac arrest, recent studies have shown that women are less likely to receive CPR and have a higher survival rate lower overall. Currently, there are several campaigns to improve the response to CPR for women.

Q: How is the University advancing cardiac arrest care in Minnesota?
Dr. Yannopoulos: The University of Minnesota has been at the forefront of major scientific developments in the ongoing fight against sudden cardiac death. We’ve invented new ways to improve blood circulation during CPR, better ways to ventilate, and new drugs to treat cardiac arrest. We have worked with every EMS agency in the state and together run a world’s best advanced resuscitation program that treats all sudden cardiac arrest victims with the most advanced and skilled team currently available. We use a machine called ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) which acts like the heart and lungs through major blood vessels to allow time to find the underlying cause, treat it, and then continue to support patients in an intensive care unit.

With this new strategy which is now the standard of care in our community, patients who have primary sudden death related to an electrical storm have a six to seven times higher survival rate compared to the national standard of care. We are spreading the knowledge and the process to be applied nationwide, and we are working tirelessly to further improve outcomes for surviving neurologically intact patients.

Q: How have collaborations with The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust brought our care to patients in rural areas?
Dr. Yannopoulos: The Helmsley Charitable Trust is a strong supporter of improving cardiac care in Minnesota. They supported the mobile ECMO project in the metropolitan area which continues to expand in rural Minnesota. Recently, the Helmsley Charitable Trust supported an AED project through the Center for Resuscitation Medicine to place new AEDs in all Minnesota law enforcement vehicles. Law enforcement officers are often the first responders on the scene, especially in rural communities, and these devices will help them provide essential life-saving care.

Demetri Yannopoulos, MD, is a professor at the Center for Resuscitation Medicine at the Twin Cities Campus Medical School and a cardiologist at M Health Fairview. His clinical interests include emergency cardiac care, coronary heart disease, and congenital and peripheral interventions.

In collaboration with The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, Dr. Yannopoulos is the academic lead for improving access to cardiac care in Minnesota through the Minnesota Mobile Resuscitation Consortium by launching the ECMO truck, three ECMO SUVs and equip law enforcement agencies and first responders statewide with state-of-the-art automated external defibrillators. Law enforcement agencies interested in participating in the AED program can register at [email protected]


About “Talking… with the U of M”
“Talking…with the U of M” is a resource through which University of Minnesota faculty answer questions about current topics and other topics of general interest. Please feel free to repost this content. If you would like to schedule an interview with the faculty member or would like the University of Minnesota to explore topics for the future “Talking…with the U of M”, please contact University Public Relations at [email protected].

About University of Minnesota Medical School
The University of Minnesota Medical School is at the forefront of learning and discovery, transforming medical care and training the next generation of physicians. Our graduates and faculty produce high-impact biomedical research and advance the practice of medicine. We recognize that the U of M medical school, both the Twin Cities campus and the Duluth campus, is located on the traditional, ancestral, and contemporary lands of the Dakotas and Ojibwe, and dozens of other Indigenous peoples, and we affirm our commitment to tribal communities and their sovereignty as we seek to improve and strengthen our relationships with tribal nations. For more information about the U of M School of Medicine, please visit

Minnesota Mobile Resuscitation Consortium
Under the Academic Clinical Affairs Officethe Minnesota Mobile Resuscitation Consortium (MMRC) is a nonprofit community resource that is an extension of the University’s ECMO Resuscitation Program that began in 2015. The U of M has more ECMO experience than any other organization in the United States, having treated over 300 ECMO cardiac arrest cases since its inception, with a survival rate of 40% – comparatively higher than the average survival rate of less than 10% in other locations that treat similar patient populations .

It is a collaborative initiative funded by an $18.6 million grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and in-kind donations from industry and private donors. Other recognized donors are Zoll Medical, Stryker Emergency Care, Getinge Incorporated and General Electric. Health care system partners include Fairview Health Services, Regions Hospital (HealthPartners) and North Memorial Health Care System, with contractual partnership for medical services with M Health Fairview, Health Partners, U of M Physicians, Hennepin Healthcare and Lifelink III for clinicians

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