Author Archives: Comilla Sasson

When Crossing the Street is the Difference Between Life and Death

Oct 25, 2012, 8:00 AM, Posted by Comilla Sasson

Comilla Sasson, MD, MS, FACEP is an attending physician at the University of Colorado Hospital and Assistant Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado.  Sasson was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Clinical Scholar at the University of Michigan from 2007 to 2010. Her latest study is published in the October 25th, 2012 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Dead. How do you make someone “undead?” How, with just your two hands, can you prolong the time that paramedics have to restart a person’s heart? How can a normal, ordinary person make a difference and literally save a life?

We know that a person’s chances of surviving an out-of-hospital sudden heart arrest decreases by 10 percent for every one minute he/she does not get CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).  I had learned about hands-only CPR in my medical training.  Hands-only CPR is where all you have to do is push hard and fast (to the tune of “Staying Alive”) at a 100 times a minute until helps arrives.

But time and time again, I cared for African-American patients in Atlanta who had laid in their families’ homes for critical minutes as their brains slowly died from a lack of blood supply from the heart.  Their hearts had stopped and no one called 911. No one placed their hands on the chest and started doing hands-only CPR.

Maybe this is just Atlanta? Is it the color of a person’s skin or is the place where he or she collapses that makes the difference?

In my Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program (RWJCSP) at the University of Michigan (2007-2010), I learned about the importance of neighborhoods in determining a person’s health.  After wading through the literature, my a priori hypothesis was that having someone stop to provide CPR is completely dependent upon others; therefore, the neighborhood plays a large role in whether or not someone does CPR.

After consulting with my two RWJCSP alumni mentors, David Magid, MD, MPH, and Arthur Kellermann, MD, MPH, FACEP, the question became clear: What role does the racial and socioeconomic composition of a neighborhood have on an individual’s likelihood of receiving life-saving bystander CPR?

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In Aurora, A Massacre Becomes a Miracle, and Then Patients Help Doctors Heal

Aug 13, 2012, 9:00 AM, Posted by Comilla Sasson

Comilla Sasson, MD, MS, is an attending physician at the University of Colorado Hospital and Assistant Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado.  Sasson was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Clinical Scholar at the University of Michigan from 2007 to 2010.

I wasn’t even supposed to work that night. I had finished a long day of meetings, and found out at 6:30 pm that my colleague, who had called in sick twice in 40 years, had influenza and he knew it was best not to expose Emergency Department (ED) patients to it.  After he called, I remember thinking, “Well, I can just power through until 8 am. Nothing too bad happens on Thursday nights.”

The night began as many other nights do in our ED. Twenty-five of our 50 beds were taken up by inpatients who were waiting for hospital beds to open up.  The ED was completely full, with another 10 patients in the waiting room. “Another one of those nights,” I groaned to myself.  We were already on “divert” status, meaning that ambulances would bypass our hospital and go to others in town. This should be a relatively easy night, right?

Until we received the call over the dispatch radio at approximately 12:30 am: Shooting at a theater in Aurora. Hopefully the paramedics remembered we were already at capacity and took the patients elsewhere.  Nine minutes later, we received a frantic phone call from one of the policemen on scene: Multiple shooting victims and Aurora Police Department just received permission to transport patients to hospitals in the backs of police cars instead of waiting for ambulances.  That’s when we realized this was not a gang fight with one or two victims, this was something different. 

The first police car showed up at 1:06 am. We raced out to the ambulance bay and started removing patients from the back of the car. The police car looked like a crime scene, with blood splattered throughout. As we were pulling the first two victims out of the car, another police car showed up. And another. And another. In total, we received nine police cars and one ambulance within 45 minutes.  Looking out into our ambulance bay with police lights flashing, I realized, this is not like any other shooting I have been involved in. This is radically different.

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