Sudden Cardiac Arrest


“She’s dead, she’s dead,” came the cry from another room. We were making a house call and Kevin was giving a reflexology session to the husband of the house. Suddenly from the bedroom we heard, “She’s dead, she’s dead.” It was caregivers for the lady of the house, a seventy-two year old invalid who had been diagnosed with multiple strokes and senile dementia.

You never know what professional practice or life will present you. What do you do when you witness sudden cardiac arrest? It was for us both a situation demanding a response as well as becoming a subject of research.

We rushed into the room as the caregivers rushed out. Kevin attempted mouth to mouth resuscitation with no results. He commented, “I don’t know CPR.

What should I do?” Barbara replied, “Do what you know, go for the feet.” Kevin applied pressure multiple times to the center of the big toe, a reflexology technique traditionally utilized for revival.

At that point, the woman sat upright in her wheelchair and began swinging her feet. Concerned she would injure herself, Kevin attempted to get the foot pedals out of the way, as he asked, “Mrs. Wallace, Mrs. Wallace, do you know who I am?” She replied, “Yes, you’re a jackass.” From the other room came the sound of laughter. They knew she was back; she always talked like that.

The rescue squad had been called immediately but had been delayed as the house had recently been repainted and there were no house numbers to guide them. It took them ten minutes to respond to the call. When they arrived they found nothing wrong with her nor was anything found at the hospital. She lived another two years.

Curiously enough, we had watched a CPR program the previous weekend about how to do. It ended by saying, and next weekend we’ll show you how to do it. We never saw the second half.

An Irish Revival

The next time we witnessed what we then knew to be sudden cardiac death, we were visiting friends in a small village on the west coast of Ireland. We knew our host was undergoing tests for a heart condition. During a late night / early morning conversation he suddenly stopped breathing and moving. While the absence or presence of a heartbeat was not confirmed at the time, he did not respond to shouts and gentle slaps on the face. He showed no signs of life.

Kevin applied pressure ten times to the left big toe and moved on to the right big toe. A faint sound of inhalation was heard and at the seventh contact, Michael sat up and said, “Barbara, Kevin, Deborah, why are you all standing over me?” He was up and moving within minutes.

Michael was later diagnosed with Brugada Syndrome, a hereditary condition where abnormalities in the heart’s ability to beat regularly lead to a high risk for arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death. He now has an implantable cardiac defibrillator. It’s nine years after the event and we always talk on the anniversary.

Why would a reflexology technique impact sudden cardiac arrest?

This is a question we have explored.

First, what is sudden cardiac arrest or death? Sudden cardiac death occurs when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions interrupting the electrical signals that cause it to contract in a regular rhythmic manner. Such interruption means the heart can no longer pump blood to the rest of the body. With blood flow to the brain interrupted, the brain becomes starved of oxygen and the person loses consciousness. As noted by one Web site. “Unless an emergency shock is delivered to the heart to restore its regular rhythm using a machine called a defibrillator, death can occur in minutes.”

What we discovered in our exploration was the importance of what Kevin had done, applied deep pressure, and where it was done, the center of the big toe. The longest neuron in the body spans the 3 to 4 feet from the center of the big toe to the body’s brain stem. We hypothesize the stimulus of pressure to this neuron resulted in response by nerves originating in the brain stem that innervate the heart’s natural pacemaker, the sinoatrial node. A natural form of defibrillation, re-setting the heartbeat was the outcome.

A Call for Research: The Potential of Reflexology Applied in Response to Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Could reflexology provide a helpful technique for one of the world’s leading causes of death — sudden cardiac arrest? Should research be instituted to test the potential for this natural defibrillator?

Consider: some half of all heart disease deaths occur as sudden cardiac arrest also known as sudden cardiac death. In the US more than 330,000 people die
each year before they reach a hospital Most of these are caused by sudden cardiac arrest.

While many lives are saved by CPR, the standard response to sudden cardiac arrest, consider the numbers. One American study found the out-of-hospital survival rate for those administered CPR to be 5%. In-hospital rates average 15% survival to hospital discharge with at least 44% experiencing significant decline at time of discharge.

The possibility of exploring what we call the Kunz maneuver as a complement to life-saving CPR should be researched.