Several years ago, when I was working as a news reporter, I got to know a remarkable woman named Rhonda. Her life forever changed when her 6th grade son went into cardiac arrest while playing in a rec-league basketball game. Bystanders attempted to help, but the facility’s automatic external defibrillator (AED) was locked up in another part of the building, too far away for it to be used in time. While devastated, Rhonda used her son’s passing to successfully advocate for stronger laws governing location and accessibility to AEDs.
June 1-7 is National CPR and AED Awareness Week, a time when the American Heart Association calls attention to the importance of the role of bystanders when a person suffers cardiac arrest. A victim’s survival depends on immediately getting CPR from someone nearby. Approximately 90% of people who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests die. CPR, especially if performed immediately, can double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival. Defibrillation, which uses an electrical shock to restore a heart’s normal rhythm, is a vital part of the chain of survival from cardiac arrest. A victim’s chance of survival decreases by seven to 10% for every minute that passes without defibrillation.
Unfortunately, less than half of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest victims get CPR from a bystander. That’s one of the reasons the AHA advocates for laws like Ohio’s HB 113, which ensures that high school students receive training in basic CPR and the use of an AED. More than 30 states have approved such measures, and as a result, more than a million students are being trained in CPR every year.
Learning Hands-Only CPR is easy and only takes a minute. There are two simple steps: 1. Call 9-1-1 and 2. Press hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of the classic disco song “Stayin’ Alive.” The AHA also coordinates in person classes and trains 17.8 million people in CPR annually. To find a course just head online and search for one in your area.
It’s been several years since Rhonda’s son passed and the first bill in his honor was signed into law, but she hasn’t stopped. She continues to push for policies that will help save more lives. We never know when we might need to use CPR or an AED, but understanding the basics means others may not have to go through a similar ordeal.
*NOTE: The AHA still recommends CPR with compressions and breaths for infants and children and victims of drowning, drug overdose, or people who collapse due to breathing problems.
Sean Dreher has been the communications director for the Toledo and Northwest Ohio Division of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association since 2015.