Note to the reader, this story has a happy ending…

A couple weeks ago my brother-in-law was minding his own business, hanging out with his family when his heart stopped. Yup, shut right down. He’s a seriously fit 52-year-old guy and down he went. Fortunately his (now REALLY favorite) son was there and recognized what was going on. He told my sister to call 9-1-1 and, having received training as an Eagle Scout, started CPR. He kept it up and kept his father alive until the ambulance arrived and, four shocks with the electro-paddle-thingies later, the now jump-started heart started doing its job again.

It turns out that my brother-in-law’s heart is healthy and happy but the wiring that makes it go is not so they put in an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator and he’s home and back on the mend. Ain’t technology grand? The staff at Mary Fletcher Hospital in Burlington, VT are referring to the whole thing as their “Christmas miracle” because the specific thing that his heart did has a whopping 4% survival rate and a very good chance that, if you do survive, there’s some permanent damage to the brain because there’s usually a loss of blood flow. Not this time. Not this time because someone knew hands-only CPR and saved his life.

(Note on the following: I am NOT a CPR instructor and am relating what I learned from the training that I received. If you want the whole story please speak to a professional.)

So why am I telling you this story? Because that life-saver can be you. A few years ago, after years of research, the American Heart Association updated and simplified how CPR is performed. There are three simple steps: 1) call for help, 2) start chest compressions and 3) don’t stop. The compression moves plenty of air so what you’re doing is making the blood move. The instructor for the course that I took added two other things to consider; first, do it HARD. If you’re not feeling things in the chest moving around and making little popping noises you’re probably not doing it hard enough (my nephew tweaked a couple of his dad’s ribs which is pretty common when CPR is successful). Second, the goal for the pace of the CPR is between 100 and 120 beats per minute. That’s pretty much the beat of the Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive” (and doesn’t THAT sound appropriate), the theme from “Ghostbusters” and “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper (there’s also a song called “How to Save a Life” by a group called The Fray; I have know idea how it goes but the title sure is perfect).

Also, if there’s an AED nearby, snag it. Don’t worry, I used a demo one in the class and the instructions are truly idiot-proof (thus my success in getting it to work).

Here’s some information and videos from the American Heart Association that explain it in more detail but the real deal is to go and take a class and get certified. It’s just a few hours and, if you need to use it, increases the chance of someone’s survival by a factor of two or three. I can assure you that you’ll walk out of the class with a feeling of satisfaction and empowerment.

Even if you’re not trained, at least watch the videos I linked to. Look at it this way…if nobody else steps up and you don’t try, there’s a 0% chance of survival so all you’re doing is increasing those odds. Also, there are “Good Samaritan” laws in every state that protect you from being sued if things don’t work out. There is no reason NOT to try and the most compelling outcome possible if you don’t.

There’s no real hard data on the number of people saved by CPR or AED rescues or the level of recovery of the people who received. I only have one data point and that one had a 100% perfect outcome.