The University of Newcastle, Australia

Heart-felt research improving outcomes for cardiac arrest survivors

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Research from the University of Newcastle (UON) is drawing on the personal stories of cardiac arrest survivors to improve their care in hospital and subsequent quality of life.

Image of Gunilla Haydon

Registered nurse and lecturer at UON’s Port Macquarie campus, Gunilla Haydon, has led the country’s first qualitative study into the experiences of people who have survived a cardiac arrest.

“Surviving cardiac arrest is a major event as there are no predictable outcomes for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Often survivors’ physical and psychological abilities change and adaptation to the new reality is challenging,” Ms Haydon explained.

“There are a lot of quantitative papers that evaluate quality of life for survivors based on standardised questionnaires, but hardly any qualitative accounts that consider individual experiences after being discharged from hospital,” she added.

Cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death worldwide and despite survival rates remaining low, Ms Haydon said research indicates an increase in numbers and longer lifespans for survivors.

“These positive trends signal a need to explore the experiences of survivors, not only in terms of survival, but also in terms of quality of life as a measure of successful resuscitation,” Ms Haydon said.

Ms Haydon conducted a literature review of several international papers, concluding that an acceptable quality of life was reported if the patient survived to hospital discharge.

“In the aftermath of a cardiac arrest, the main focus is on clinical outcomes such as the ability to function independently. Very little focus is on their mental health. There is a need to develop more holistic pathways from hospital care to community care that specifically target the psychological issues that occur after surviving a cardiac arrest,” stressed Ms Haydon.

Ms Haydon explained that survivors often felt abandoned by the healthcare team after discharge, before a relationship had formed with the rehabilitation team.

“Many survivors experience anxiety and depression when they return to their altered reality, which may be as limiting as any physical ailments. There needs to be a multidisciplinary approach to the transition between hospital wards and home to improve survivor outcomes,” she said.

Ms Haydon is also undertaking her PhD in this area, which is informed by the survivors’ narrative stories of their experience of a cardiac arrest.

Articles detailing the study findings have been published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing and the Scandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences.

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