CPR, AEDs and 911 Saving Lives


By Pete Scales M.Ag, BSc EP


Two short, three-letter abbreviations and three numbers that when used together can save the life of a loved one or a complete stranger.

CPR – Cardio (meaning heart) plus Pulmonary (meaning lungs) and Resuscitation (meaning restore) – has been around for approximately fifty years and in that time has undergone continuous improvement and increases in effectiveness. CPR has been the subject of numerous scientific studies, international conferences and revisions, to the point that now when a member of the general public identifies someone in need as non-responsive and not breathing it is as simple as:

1.) Call 911.

2.) Turn patient onto their back and expose chest by opening clothing.

3.) With two hands stacked one on top of the other, positioned over the upper chest, press down hard and fast – don’t stop until medical help arrives.

And there is a very important 4th step:

4.) Ask for an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) device – interestingly, there may be one nearby.

CPR works by chest compressions, manually moving blood around the body and, in particular, to the brain. This is normally the job done by a healthy, beating heart. But in the case of someone who is non-responsive, not breathing and likely having a heart attack, abnormal electrical activity in the heart is not sufficient to move blood around. They need help and fast for after four to six minutes of pulselessness, their brain cells begin to die. This simple fact of life, or death, is the key to starting CPR quickly. And yes, whoever helps them, will, in turn, need even more help. This is where the folks at the other end of the 911 system come to the rescue. They already know that CPR, by itself, is not going to greatly improve this person’s chances of survival – walking out of a hospital under their own steam.

Presently, the chances of an adult surviving a heart attack when given just CPR are about 8%. That percentage could be greatly improved if more people were trained in CPR and then, if everyone who is trained actually used the skill when the need presented. Studies by the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation indicate that 50% of these CPR informed folks don’t use it for fear of doing something wrong, hurting the person in need or simply because they think it to be somehow, unsanitary. Spoiler alert – if a person is non-responsive and not breathing, they are as good as dead anyway. But you can change that. You can improve their chances of survival by keeping their hearts going until medical help arrives. Their chances of survival skyrocket when CPR is used in conjunction with what the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation calls the “Chain of Life.”

After CPR, the next important link in the chain is the arrival and proper application of an AED. These devices, that are now compact enough to fit into a small sized lunch box, when hooked up, are designed to read the electrical activity of the non-responsive person’s heart. If it finds two particular types of electrical patterns: VT (ventricular tachycardia) or VF (ventricular fibrillation) it will warn you and those around you to move away from the person. An electric shock is delivered and the device instructs you to either recommence CPR or to cease compressions. It’s as simple as that.

Science has made it possible for teams all around the globe to study emergency room, ambulance and publicly administered AED-use results to develop a technology which is safe, relatively inexpensive, easy to use by the general public and best of all, effective. AEDs are cropping up in airports, hotels, bus stations, recreation facilities and, yes, even in the homes of persons susceptible to heart disease. Chances of survival jump to around 35% when AEDs are used and climb even further when ambulances and, by extension, hospital emergency rooms bring their considerable experience to bare.

So, what are the take-aways of this article? CPR works and it works even better when you take a course AND then, don’t be afraid to use what you learned. Contact your local Red Cross, St John’s Ambulance or private first aid provider to take a course. When you are out and about look around and take notice of AED locations – you never know when you might need to use one. Become an integral part of the Chain of Life.

For a cute but effective how-to video check out: http://cpr.heart.org/AHAECC/CPRAndECC/Programs/HandsOnlyCPR/UCM_473196_Hands-Only-CPR.jsp

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