Now imagine yourself experiencing this traumatic event outside of a hospital – in the street, in a restaurant, in your home or while commuting – and face the fact that your chances of survival are slim. You will likely join the less than five per cent of people who experience cardiac arrest outside of hospital and who live to tell the tale, unless among the bystanders is someone who is willing and able to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.
Jason Buick demonstrates CPR at St. Michael’s Hospital during Doors Open 2011.
CPR helps maintain vital blood flow to the heart, brain and other essential body systems. Having someone start this simple procedure within minutes of collapse could well be your ticket to a second chance. If your heart stops in the presence of a pair of hands trained in the basics of CPR, and if those hands are put to work quickly, you are four times more likely to survive. For every minute that passes without CPR your chances decrease seven to 10 per cent. The average EMS response time on a good day is between six to eight minutes.
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, as many as 55 per cent of cardiac arrests are witnessed by a bystander – often a family member or a friend. Yet many a bystander is unfamiliar with CPR or lacking the confidence to perform this potentially life-saving procedure. A call to 911 and a nail-biting wait for the arrival of paramedics is a more likely scenario, with the probability of death a more likely outcome for the victim.
If Jason Buick has his way, bystanders who are willing and able to perform CPR will be everywhere; among your family, your friends, your workplace colleagues and the anonymous people you pass everyday on the street. Buick, a graduate student in resuscitation sciences at the University of Toronto, is conducting research into various aspects of bystander CPR as part of his studies towards a Masters degree. He and several other researchers were recently awareded a grant from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research to launch an innovative project called Café Scientifique.
Critical role of the bystander
The aim of the project, Buick explains, is to raise awareness of the critical role of the bystander. “A witness to sudden cardiac arrest can do three things to improve the chances that the patient will survive: they can call 911, they can start chest compressions immediately and they can apply a defibrillator – an automated device that sends an electric shock to restart the rhythm of the heart. These steps can increase the chances of survival by 800 per cent. So by following three simple steps, anybody can save a life!”
But studies show a whopping 70 per cent of Canadians would be hesitant or unwilling to help save someone’s life by performing CPR. Buick says this is because most people lack confidence, or believe the procedure to be beyond their capabilities. “There is a perception that only highly trained and experienced medical professionals, like paramedics, doctors and nurses should or can do CPR. Some people say they are afraid of doing CPR incorrectly and inadvertently injuring the patient, while others even say they fear catching some sort of disease.”
Buick says these concerns and fears are unwarranted and easily overcome through public education and hands-on experience. It is his hope that the CIHR grant will help him to set up an ad-hoc café, in which efforts will be focused on identifying fears and raising awareness about the important role a bystander can play. Participants will be able to practice simple chest compressions on a mannequin. A cup of coffee and a pastry will also be on offer to those who participate.
“Our intention is to invite people of all ages to come together in a relaxed environment, and to demystify the basic science and practice of CPR so that they go away feeling that they too can help save a life.”
November is CPR Month. Visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada website to learn more about sudden cardiac arrest, CPR, heart disease and stroke.
For more information about CPR research and initiatives, visit www.rescu.ca