During cardiac arrest, CPR is a heart-starter

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In the late 1970s, I was a pastor in Everett, Washington. One of our neighbors was a fireman in downtown Seattle. He was also an EMT (emergency medical technician). When he would tell me about his work, it was mostly about medical runs of one kind or another. Even 40 years ago in Seattle, a large portion of fire calls were for medical emergencies.

One of the essential services of fire departments and EMS (Emergency Medical Services) is CPR, cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

In a 2015 article about CPR, “CPR During Cardiac Arrest …” there was a good description of the heart-starting technique:

“Cardiac arrest is the ultimate 911 emergency. The heart stops sending blood to the body and brain, either because it is beating too fast and too erratically, or because it has stopped beating altogether. Oxygen-starved brain cells start to die. Death occurs in minutes — unless a bystander takes matters into his or her hands and starts CPR.

Doing CPR keeps blood circulating until trained and better-equipped first responders arrive on the scene to jump-start the heart back into a normal rhythm.”

It appears that the survival rate of persons who had CPR given them in an emergency has not been good. But the rate has improved from even the early 2000’s.

It also appears that a few simple factors have contributed to that increased effectiveness:

1. More people are trained to do even basic CPR, so persons needing CPR have a better chance of someone getting to them before EMS personnel can arrive on the scene. The 2015 article quoted above also shared this startling factoid:

“Of the 400,000 or so Americans who go into cardiac arrest outside of a hospital every year, only 6% survive the crisis. That low percentage might have something to do with the fact that only 3% of Americans learn how to do CPR each year.”

2. A second factor that may contribute to a better survival rate is the increased available use of AEDs (Automated External Defibrillator). The “ideal” emergency circumstance is that CPR can be given to a person until an AED can be used either by a knowledgeable bystander or a first responder.

AEDs are portable gadgets that deliver a brief electrical shock to the heart to get it pumping normally. They’re increasingly found in public places, such as shopping malls. Unfortunately, they often sit unused in their cabinets — even when there’s a real emergency.

So why am I going on about CPR and AED? Well, I’m not cooking up “alphabet soup,” folks. I’m previewing what we will learn much more about at next Tuesday’s Geezer Forum! On Feb. 11, 2:30-4 p.m. at the Community Room at Columbia Bank, the Geezer Forum will be led by two members of the Bonner County EMS.

Our primary focus that day will be to learn — and practice — how to do CPR. EMS Director Jeff Lindsey and Capt. Tyler Armistead will teach us the hands-on basics of doing CPR. Some of us have had CPR training in the past, some of us have not. Either way, a reminder is always helpful.

I strongly expect we will also learn about the value of AED’s and where these life-saving devices are found in our community. Cardiologist Dr. Ron Jenkins has been working with the county EMS for some time to bring CPR education and AEDs to our area.

Tuesday’s Geezer Forum gives them opportunity to share this important message. And it gives us geezers-in-training another way to learn how we just might contribute to making a heart-starting difference in someone else’s life!

You are most welcome to join us next Tuesday.

Paul Graves, M.Div., is lead geezer-in-training for Elder Advocates, a consulting ministry on aging issues. Contact Paul at 208-610-4971 or elderadvocates@nctv.com.

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