Editorial – Have a Heart

You’re out for a run, enjoying the autumn scenery. Then you notice that a fellow jogger is showing signs of a heart attack. What do you do?

Well, Kindergarten taught you well: in an emergency, call 9-1-1. But sometimes the emergency personnel can’t get there as quickly as might be required?and those first 10 minutes can literally mean the difference between life and death. In fact in some cases, the odds of survival can be increased by up to 400 per cent if CPR is administered right away.

There’s no doubt that prompt action is crucial, but sometimes it feels almost impossible to get started. After all, holding someone’s future in your hands seems a daunting responsibility, especially if the only CPR you know is what you’ve learned from medical shows on TV.

Overcoming that fear can save someone’s life. Yet fewer and fewer bystanders are making the decision to assist their fellow human beings in distress. In fact, in a situation like the one above, just 25 per cent of Canadians will jump in to help.

Doctors are speaking out against such an outrageous trend. As The Globe and Mail reports, the Canadian Association of Emergency Room Physicians recently issued a statement ?saying too many victims of cardiac arrest are dying because the person beside them does not know what to do, and is afraid to act.?

The CAEP also strongly urges bystanders, regardless of their skill level, to perform chest compressions on a heart attack victim?whether adult, child, or infant. In fact, many physicians believe we have a civic duty to do so.

?It’s no longer morally and socially acceptable to do nothing,? Dr. Christian Vaillancourt, of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, told reporters.

Worried about injuring the person You’re trying to help? While It’s possible to break a rib when administering chest compressions, that harm is small compared with the gift of life. ?You cannot hurt a cardiac arrest victim any more than they are already hurting,? Dr. Vaillancourt told reporters. And in a setting where every second counts, even inexpert aid can make a huge difference.

If You’re concerned about potential lawsuits, note this: most provinces have Good Samaritan laws which absolve well-meaning responders from liability in the event an injury occurs while they’re giving life-saving help.

Any CPR is better than none when someone’s seconds away from possible death or permanent damage. But those who go beyond the basics can offer much more effective aid. So get trained! Learn the signs of a heart attack or stroke. Keep the instructions for the Heimlich maneuver on your fridge, and these CPR basics in your wallet. If You’re out on the water a lot, learn the real way to rescue?and resuscitate?a drowning victim.

Invest in a good first aid book, something you can quickly consult in case of an emergency. No one wants to think about how to deal with a severed finger, choking child, or stroking relative, but knowledge can save lives and limbs.

Best of all, though, consider a first aid or CPR course. Hospitals, medical clinics, colleges, and Parks and Recreation offices often offer weekend or evening courses through their adult education programs. Alternatively, check your local listings or contact your local branch of the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation. don’t have time to take a full class just yet? The Heart and Stroke Foundation’s CPR Anytime program?which you can complete at home in less than 30 minutes?is a good interim option.

If you took a course years ago, consider an update?as many as 60 per cent of those with CPR training have forgotten what they’ve learned (and this particularly manifests in a high-stress situation like cardiac arrest).

We have a responsibility to look out for our fellow human beings. What better gift can we give than taking time to learn how to save a life?