NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – There were more than half a million cases of cardiac arrest in the United States last year, killing more than 300,000 Americans.

But now, a new emergency protocol that’s being tested can significantly increase survival rates.

As CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported, Mark Bradford takes the same walk every day, but one September morning changed his life forever when he collapsed in sudden cardiac arrest.

“Next thing I remember is waking up in the heart unit,” Bradford said.

He’s alive today thanks to a new protocol being tested by the Columbus Ohio EMS and the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

It starts when first responders are unable to shock a patient’s heart back into rhythm. An alert sets off a carefully planned chain of events that keeps a patient alive until their heart function can be restored.

While medics connect a patient to an automated CPR machine in the ambulance, a team assembles at the hospital to prepare the catheterization laboratory. The patient bypasses the emergency room.

“Getting people directly to the cath lab is critically important, because the more time we wait, the more damage is done to the heart, the more damage is done to all of your organs, including your brain,” Dr. Ernest Mazzafierri explained.

They’re immediately connected to an ECMO machine that does the job of their heart and lungs.

So we can rest the heart and lungs and then work, in this case, on the heart to try to get it restarted and beating well,” said Dr. Bryan Whitson.

This seamless process buys doctors time to try to fix what caused the cardiac arrest – a chance they didn’t have before. So far, early results have already increased survival rates from zero to about 40 percent.

“Patients have a chance to walk out of a hospital with neurological recovery, having a meaningful life. When essentially, they would have been pronounced dead on the field,” Dr. K. Dean Boudoulas said.

Bradford was the first patient to benefit from the protocol.

“Without that protocol, I wouldn’t be alive,” he said.

Without this process, virtually all of the persistent cardiac arrest patients died in the field.

With positive results from this pilot program, experts hope the ECRP protocol will become standard practice across the country.

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