Commentary: Save lives by training more people in hands-only CPR

Each year, more than 359,000 cases of cardiac arrest - in which the heart suddenly stops working properly - occur across the United States. In Philadelphia, about 1,100 people died from cardiac arrest just last year.

Many of those out-of-hospital deaths could have been avoided with a simple solution. Hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a lifesaving technique that is useful in many emergencies when someone's heart stops beating, including sudden cardiac arrest or near-drowning. Hands-only doesn't require mouth-to-mouth breaths and has been found to be as effective as conventional CPR for cardiac arrest at home, at work, or in public.

When the heart stops, the lack of oxygenated blood can cause brain damage in only a few minutes, and a person can die in eight to 10 minutes. However, the use of CPR can keep blood flowing to the brain and other vital organs until medical experts arrive and provide treatment that can restore the heart's rhythm.

Hands-only CPR can be done in two easy steps:

Call 911.

Push hard and fast in the center of the chest at a rate of at least 100 compressions per minute.

CPR can often be the difference between life and death. That's why the Philadelphia Regional CPR Awareness Coalition is launching CPR Ready, a campaign designed to dramatically increase the number of individuals in the region who are qualified and willing to perform bystander hands-only CPR, as well as use an automated external defibrillator (AED), which can help restore an abnormally beating heart's rhythm.

Coalition members include the American Heart Association, the American Red Cross, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the CPR/AED Public Awareness and Training Network, the Health Care Improvement Foundation, Independence Blue Cross, Independence Blue Cross Foundation, Penn Medicine, the Philadelphia Fire Department, and the School District of Philadelphia.

It is far more likely a person will survive cardiac arrest if a bystander performs CPR. Unfortunately, studies show that 70 percent of Americans feel helpless to act during a cardiac emergency because they don't know how to properly administer CPR or they're afraid of hurting the victim.

Indeed, 90 percent of people who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests die, according to American Heart Association figures. But CPR, especially if performed immediately, can double or triple a cardiac arrest victim's chance of survival.

Just consider this: At 42 years old, Anthony Radico collapsed while working out at his gym in Upper Darby. He had no history of heart problems, and there was little warning other than some fatigue right before his heart stopped. His rescuer, Amanda Beal, performed CPR on Radico for approximately seven minutes until emergency help arrived. She also set him up for a defibrillator, which the paramedics used four times. Radico is fortunate that Beal was in the right place at the right time and willing to jump in and help.

In Philadelphia, the survival rate for witnessed cardiac arrests is just over 20 percent. By comparison, the equivalent statistic in Seattle is 62 percent.

That's because Seattle - which has one of the highest survival rates in the country - has made it a priority to train its residents to use CPR and to increase AED availability. In fact, Washington state passed a law in 2013 that requires all high school students to get CPR training.

What about Philadelphia's schools? The coalition aims to have CPR/AED education taught in at least half of middle and high schools within the next three years, with a long-term goal of reaching all middle and high schools in the region. The coalition also aims to triple overall CPR training in the area and double the number of people who could provide CPR after witnessing a cardiac arrest.

Visit heart.org/handsonlycpr to find CPR training or to watch a one-minute hands-only CPR instructional video and share it with the important people in your life. Get involved today and save a life.

Daniel J. Hilferty is the president and CEO of Independence Blue Cross. newsroom@ibx.com

Kenneth Margulies, M.D., is a professor and cardiologist at Penn Medicine and the president of the American Heart Association's Southeastern Pennsylvania Board. ken.margulies@uphs.upenn.edu

Benjamin S. Abella, M.D., is clinical research director of the Center for Resuscitation Science at the University of Pennsylvania. benjamin.abella@uphs.upenn.edu

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