Monday, July 6, 2009

Cardiac arrest teaching moment

Sadly, we have another teaching moment in the news: the "cardiac arrest" reported as a cause of death for music artist Michael Jackson.

Recently, I described how the unexpected death of Natasha Richardson from an epidural hematoma could be used as starting point for a discussion of the structure of the coverings of the brain and how things can go wrong.

Scientific American's blog 60-Second Science has a nice article that describes the different between a "heart attack" and "cardiac arrest," a distinction lost on most folks. But A&P students, especially those headed into health or athletic/fitness fields, should be aware of what these terms mean and how it illustrates the normal function of the heart in maintaining the blood flow needed for healthy survival.

I think the contents of the blog article, and its clarification of what is usually meant by the term "cardiac arrest," is a great starting point for possible discussions of:
  • Whether the terms "heart attack" and "cardiac arrest" are useful enough or precise enough for (a) public reporting and/or (b) medical reporting and recordkeeping.

  • How are these two situations similar? What do they have in common? Can one lead to the other?

  • What is "heart failure" and how does that relate to the above conditions?

  • What factors may lead to any of the above conditions?

  • What happens to blood flow when the heart beats too fast? too slow? too weakly?

  • What effects might the illicit/unsupervised use of drugs have on heart function?

  • Can the supervised use of drugs have harmful effects on heart function?

  • Can educated observers reading the public media really deduce what happened to Michael Jackson? What do we (think we) know, and is that enough to form a solid hypothesis? What information would we like to have to form a theory of the cause of death?

  • There are conflicting reports of the state of health of Michael Jackson immediately preceding his death . . . are any of them reliable as scientific evidence of cause of death?
As you can see, there are several different directions one could go in to use this tragic (but popular) news story to "bring home" various topics of A&P, the scientific method, and the role of science/medicine in society in your course. Perhaps you can share with us some other questions one could pose for a class discussion.

In any case, this story presents yet another opportunity to leverage the interests of students in a particular case to explore the concepts of an A&P course.

Michael Jackson and cardiac arrest
B. Borrell
Scientific American 26 June 2009
[60-Second Science blog article calling attention to the subject of "cardiac arrest"]
Heart Disease and Sudden Cardiac Death
WebMD accessed 6 July 2009
[Excellent article explaining cardiac arrest]

Here's a video with an M.D. explaining "cardiac arrest" relative to the Jackson case:

[The image that appears with this article is a FREE image depicting the international symbol for an AED (automatic external defibrillator]

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