Rebecca Burger, a widely popular French fitness blogger, died over the weekend after a whipped cream dispenser exploded into her chest. Citing local reports in France, the BBC reported that she died of cardiac arrest after the accident, despite being attended to by medics.
Her family announced her death on Facebook, calling it a “domestic accident.” A warning about what her family described as a faulty dispenser involved in her death has also been posted on her Instagram. The message said the canister “exploded and struck Rebecca’s chest, causing her death.”
The canisters shoot gas into a metal capsule to maintain their pressure. A French consumer group had warned readers for years about faulty connectors that could break and permit the gas capsules to be ejected at high speed, the BBC reported, adding that faulty canisters were involved in enough accidents that the French government issued a warning and said the accidents stretched back as far as 2010.
Cardiac arrest is more common than you think
It is unclear precisely how the canister explosion triggered Burger’s cardiac arrest, but the condition is more common than you might think.
In the US, some 325,000 people experience sudden cardiac arrest each year, when the heart stops suddenly as the result of a malfunction. A surprising number of people who suffer from cardiac arrest are in good health with no prior indications of heart disease, though the exact figure remains hotly debated.
About 90% of them die.
Cardiac arrest is different from a heart attack, which involves a blocked artery that causes the heart to stop. It also affects a different set of people — middle-aged men and women, a surprising number of whom exercise regularly and eat right. You can think of a heart attack as a “plumbing problem,” according to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, while you can think of sudden cardiac arrest as an “electrical problem.”
Why survival rates are so low
Survival rates for sudden cardiac arrest vary immensely by state and even by county in America. In an ER in Seattle and King County, a story in The New York Times noted, your average chances of surviving it are nearly 20%. In Detroit, your chances are 3%.
It all comes down to the tools and protocol applied by the people who receive you. Depending on which hospital or ER you end up in, you may get some treatments but not others.
“It’s all sort of voluntary — it’s a patchwork. And it’s created the situation we’re in today where survival is very variable depending on where you live,” Ben Abella, the Clinical Research Director of the Center for Resuscitation Science at the University of Pennsylvania, told Business Insider in 2015. “I think a lot of people think you dial 9-1-1 and you get the same care, but no, it’s vastly different.”
Survival rates are dismal.
According to a 2015 report from the Institute of Medicine, the average rate of surviving cardiac arrest outside a hospital is 6%. When a patient is treated by first responders, the rate rises to 12%, according to a 2016 report from the American Heart Association.
The problem comes down to time and a lack of standards.
Beating the clock
The most common phrase doctors use to describe what it looks like when someone is having cardiac arrest is “they drop.” After that moment, each minute is critical to their survival.
“The biggest thing we can do … is control what happens outside of the hospital before they get in, because those are some of the most critical minutes a patient has,” John Greenwood, the Medical Director of the Emergency Department Critical Care Resuscitation Unit at the University of Pennsylvania, told Business Insider in 2015.
Burger had 160,000 Instagram followers and shared thousands of photos of her life.
During that time, a person’s blood isn’t circulating. Their brain isn’t getting the oxygen it needs. The more time that passes, the less chances a person will have a full recovery.
But the US has no standards, either for training people to apply the necessary life-saving procedures or for requiring the machinery that could help to be installed in public places like restaurants or shopping malls. A 2016 report from the American Heart Association again urged for the implementation of these standards.
“We’re faced with a problem of implementation,” said Abella. “We don’t know how many Americans have been trained in CPR. You’d think that would be a number we should know, but we don’t. We also don’t know cardiac arrest incidence and survival. There’s no national mechanism to look at that.”
The IM report estimates that less than 3% of Americans get CPR training. And they found that defibrillators — the heart-jump starting machines popularized by medical soap operas — are used by bystanders in just 4% of non-hospital cardiac arrests.
“Not all buildings require defibrillators. So even though these have been proven as life-saving devices, we’re sort of at the mercy of local businesses. You’d think, well, we have fire alarms that are hardwired into building codes. But defibrillators are not,” Abella said.