We may find ourselves thinking, “My family members are healthy. I’ll never need to use CPR or some other life-saving technique.”
However, statistics show that cardiac arrest can occur suddenly and often without warning. In the United States, there are more than 356,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA) cases each year (that's about 1,000 people each day!), of which approximately 70% occur at home and another 15% occur in public settings. Of these, an astonishing 90% of cases are fatal. These statistics caution that any of us potentially may be present when life-saving CPR is required and every second counts.
To understand the vital role CPR plays in improving survival outcomes, we sat down with Dr. Kellie Kirkpatrick, emergency room chief at Trumbull Regional Medical Center in Ohio. She serves on the frontlines, diagnosing and treating life-threatening conditions such as heart attack, massive bleeding, and drug overdose.
Why is administering CPR crucial?
Administering CPR improves survivability, and that is the goal. The American Heart Association states that performing CPR after sudden cardiac arrest can double — even triple — a person’s chance of survival.
What does CPR do for a person who has stopped breathing?
CPR allows circulation to continue, sustaining blood flow and oxygenation to the body’s vital organs, such as the brain.
Our bodies typically have 5 to 6 minutes of reserve oxygen; however, when a victim suffers a sudden cardiac arrest, the heart is unable to distribute blood throughout the body. The deprivation of oxygen causes tissues and organs to deteriorate, resulting in irreparable harm or even death. Every minute without CPR decreases survival by 7% to 10%.
How do you know when CPR is necessary?
When someone collapses, shout for someone to call 911 and check the victim for a response. Ask, “Are you OK?” If there is no response, gently tilt the victim’s head back with one hand and lift the chin with the other to open their airway. Scan the victim from head to abdomen for signs of breathing. Gasping or gurgling is not breathing, and CPR should be performed immediately.
Check for a pulse (wrist, neck, heartbeat), and if you cannot feel the pulse then it is crucial to begin administering CPR.
Is administering CPR ever not recommended?
Never place yourself at risk. You cannot be of assistance to someone if you become a victim yourself. Always scan the area to assess the scene before beginning CPR.
What are some reasons someone may be reluctant to administer CPR?
When someone stops breathing, every second counts. However, someone who may be in the position to render aid may not do so due to misunderstandings or even fear. The American Heart Association notes that only 40% of adults who suffer a cardiac arrest receive CPR.
Some may think that the procedure is too difficult to execute. Others may think that it is of no use because the person is already deceased, or if they did attempt to administer CPR, they may cause more harm by breaking bones (such as the rib cage). And others may hold on to the hope that help is just around the corner.
Then, there are those who are concerned about legal ramifications. It is essential to understand that more harm is done when a bystander does nothing. Good Samaritan Laws are in place in many states to protect non-trained bystanders who render life-saving aid in good faith (check your local laws to ensure your state offers this protection).
In addition, there are those who may be concerned about hygiene and their wellbeing. Especially in the post-COVID-19 age, many may feel uncomfortable with rescue breaths (mouth-to-mouth resuscitation). The good news is that hands-only CPR still makes a difference and requires less steps, allowing untrained bystanders to render aid when it matters most.
While performing CPR may present some implications, these risks are generally considered small when compared to the possible advantage of saving a life.
Who is an ideal candidate to learn CPR?
Everyone. Especially those who interact with the public or engage with large crowds. Also, with over 70% of OHCA cases occurring at home, learning how to administer CPR should be an essential part of every family’s safety plan.
Attending a CPR course such as those offered nationwide by the American Heart Association can help anyone be prepared to respond to a life-threatening situation. When every second counts, administering CPR can mean the difference between life and death. The power is in your hands; help save a life.