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Hands-only CPR is a lifesaver

Dan Neenan is a medical
paramedic. He knows that when people call 911 to report a medical emergency,
time stands still while they wait for help.

“Three to four minutes is an
eternity,” he says.

Nearly 90% of cardiac
emergencies occur at home. Effective CPR provided immediately can double or
triple survival rates. In rural areas, where rescuers travel greater distances,
CPR is even more critical.

“CPR is a stopgap step to
keep blood flowing until trained personnel arrive,” Neenan says. “After four
minutes, you begin to lose brain tissue. The survival rate drops with each

But many people don’t feel qualified to perform
traditional CPR. They worry they’ll make a life-threatening mistake.

Last year, for the first
time, a large American study revealed that more adults survive cardiac arrest
when they receive continuous chest presses to simulate a heartbeat, compared to
traditional CPR with mouth-to-mouth breathing.

A University of Washington
study published last year in The New England Journal of Medicine also suggested
that a hands-only procedure is the best approach when CPR is being given by a

For almost 40 years, CPR
guidelines instructed rescuers to follow the A-B-C instructions (airway,
breath, and chest compressions). The American Heart Association (AHA) revised
its guidelines in 2010, starting with the C for chest compressions, followed by
airway and breath (CAB). (Compressions alone are OK if you’re not CPR-trained.)

This simplified method
eliminates the confusion of knowing a required ratio of breaths-to-chest

“People hesitate to do
mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and so they often delay,” says Neenan, who is
manager of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS) in
Peosta, Iowa. “We tell people to remember that every compression is one more
heartbeat than the person would have otherwise.”

Sudden cardiac arrest is not
the same as a heart attack. “Cardiac arrest occurs when electrical impulses to
the heart become erratic,” Neenan says. “A heart attack is caused by a blockage
in the artery. A heart attack may cause cardiac arrest.”

If someone else is
available, start chest compressions while a 911 call is made. If an automatic
external defibrillator (AED) is available, follow the AED’s voice prompts. Here
are four steps rescuers need to remember:

• Give chest compressions at
a rate of at least 100 per minute – the same rhythm as the beat of the song
“Stayin’ Alive” by the BeeGees.

• Continue compressions
until trained professionals arrive.

• Compress at least 2 inches
into the chest of an adult and 1.5 inches for infants.

• Avoid leaning into the
chest following each compression.

Access To CPR Training

Standard CPR, including
mouth-to-mouth and chest compressions, still is recommended for very small
children and victims of near-drowning and drug overdose. These are instances
when breathing problems likely triggered the cardiac arrest.

Traditional CPR classes are
available at local hospitals, and fire departments sometimes open their classes
to the public.

NECAS offers a basic
hands-only CPR course in addition to its training for health care professionals
and emergency medical service personnel (888/844-6322 or


Kits can be ordered through
the AHA, including a training DVD and an inflatable, disposable mannequin. AHA
also offers a Heartsaver AED class with a defibrillator and CPR. 

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