Two hands, one heart, countless lives saved |

Two hands, one heart, countless lives saved

By Mary Beth TeSelle, Special to The Union

CPR First Aid Training with CPR dummy in the classCPR First Aid Training with CPR dummy in the class

Every day in the United States, more than 1,000 people suffer cardiac arrest outside a hospital. Imagine if one of those people was a loved one, a friend or just a stranger you've encountered in the community. Would you know what to do to help them?

According to the American Heart Association, less than 10 percent of people who experience cardiac arrest outside of a hospital survive. And all too often, it is because no one knew how to help.

Statistics show that each one of us should know how to respond. The AHA reports that 80 percent of all cardiac arrests occur outside the hospital — happening at home, work or in a public location. And the vast majority do not receive chest compressions prior to receiving professional emergency care.

That means countless people every day could help save a life by knowing one simple action: Hands-only CPR.

"The recommended CPR is so much simpler than had been recommended before — and it's just as effective," explained Dr. Ryan Smith, cardiologist with Dignity Health Medical Group – Sierra Nevada. "Everyone can be ready even with no preparation to help keep someone alive until the paramedics arrive on the scene. And the 911 operators are trained to talk the public through performing CPR real-time, while on the phone."

What is CPR?

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CPR – Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation – dates back to the 1500s, when fireplace bellows were used to force air back into the lungs of people who had stopped breathing. The first report of chest compressions (forceful blows to the chest) can be found in the late 1800s. In 1960, medical experts began recommending the combination of mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing with chest compressions, which became modern day CPR.

For years, CPR involved those two steps – chest compressions and rescue breathing. Unfortunately, that combination of steps left many people feeling fearful, believing that CPR was something they didn't understand or couldn't perform correctly. There was also a reluctance to perform rescue breathing, especially on strangers.

And so, bystanders would do nothing.

Why hands-only?

In 2008, after much research and study, the AHA revised its CPR recommendations. The new guidelines recommend that bystanders who witness the sudden collapse of an adult dial 911 and provide high-quality chest compressions only.

In fact, the AHA found that among adult victims of cardiac arrest, the survival rate for those who received chest compressions only is higher than for those who received both compressions and rescue breathing.

"The hope is that by simplifying the CPR process, more people will take action," said Smith. "For most adults who collapse and don't have a pulse, the problem is the heart, not the lungs. So chest compression may be enough."

In the years since the initial hands-only recommendation, scientific support continues to grow. A 2012 Japanese study found that the chances of surviving cardiac arrest with good brain function are better when bystanders focused their efforts on chest compressions without rescue breathing.

The Japanese researchers concluded that when bystanders attempted chest compressions as well as rescue breathing, the chest compressions were not as effective and the patient suffered.

"The most important thing is that you take action," said Smith. "Do not be afraid! Even if there is a rib or sternum fracture or dislocation – most people heal up quickly from that. It's low on the list of concerns for that person at that time. No one has ever come to my office upset that the sternal bone was fractured by someone (like me) during CPR. Push hard, fast, and regularly. You may be the only one who can save that person's life."

What to Do?

If you witness an adult or teenager* experiencing cardiac arrest, immediately call 911. Then, perform hands-only CPR:

— Place one hand over the over with fingers laced together.

— Kneel over the victim with shoulders over your hands and arms straight.

— Push hard and push fast in center of chest.

— Deliver at least 100 chest compressions per minute.

— Perform compressions to the beat of a fast song like “Staying Alive.”

— Continue until you see signs of life, like breathing, or until EMS arrives.

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*Recommendations for children experiencing cardiac arrest still include rescue breathing.

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