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Heart association encourages people to train for CPR, defibrillator use

POSTED: June 19, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Kim Cooper, a staff educator at Northeast Georgia Medical Center, demonstrates the use of an automated external defibrillator on a CPR mannequin.

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Don’t be afraid to save a life.

In a recent American Heart Association survey, 89 percent of adults said they would want to offer assistance if they saw a medical emergency.

But only 21 percent said they were confident they could perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). And only 15 percent thought they would know how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED), a portable device that can shock a heart back into normal rhythm.

Faced with this reluctance to take action, the heart association is trying to encourage people to go ahead and try to help.

"It’s not difficult," said Joel Moorhead, clinical nurse educator for the American Heart Association in Atlanta. "And it’s so rewarding when you save someone."

The issue of bystander involvement was in the news last week, when an elderly man in Connecticut was struck by a car and onlookers didn’t immediately step forward to help.

In the case of a cardiac arrest, Moorhead said people may worry too much about whether they know the proper technique to render assistance.

"I don’t think it’s that people don’t want to get involved," she said. "I think it’s because they’re afraid they’re going to hurt somebody."

Moorhead points out that when a person’s heart has stopped beating, they are technically dead, so a rescuer can’t make the situation any worse.

Dr. Martin Siegfried, a cardiologist with the Gainesville Heart Group, agrees.

"Bystander intervention is very important," he said. "My thought is, try something. If you do nothing, it’s not going to get any better."

Every moment counts, Siegfried said, because when the heart is not beating, the brain is deprived of oxygen.

"Immediate CPR is one of the most effective things you can do," he said. "The faster you get somebody started on CPR, the more likely they will survive."

He said you can’t rely solely on an AED to miraculously bring someone back to life.

"When you shock somebody, all you do is re-establish a rhythm. It doesn’t get the blood flowing through the body as CPR does," he said.

Siegfried said when a person collapses, as soon as you determine that they don’t have a pulse, you should start chest compressions.

"Then shout to someone to get help. Call 911 and look for an AED."

Many public buildings now have an AED on site, and there will usually be a sign posted so visitors can find it.

The devices are designed to be used by people who have no medical training.

"They’re very user-friendly and idiot-proof," Siegfried said. "They have pictorial instructions, and most have voice directions as well."

But when time is of the essence, it helps if someone has used the device before, so there’s no learning curve. The American Red Cross in Gainesville provides AED training as an optional add-on to its usual CPR and first aid courses.

Unfortunately, while AEDs are mostly self-explanatory, CPR is not something that can be taught in a minute or two. That’s why most people have never received CPR training.

On the third Saturday of each month, the Red Cross offers an eight-hour CPR/first aid course for the community.

"We try to keep it as cheap as we can, but we are a nonprofit, and we have to be able to pay for our instructors and materials," said Red Cross spokeswoman Beverly Walker.

The eight-hour class costs $55, and AED training is an additional $10.

People can also take classes online. The fees are the same, but the flexibility may be more attractive for time-stretched families.

"You have a year to complete the class online," Walker said. "Then you come in (to the Red Cross chapter house) and watch a DVD and take a skills test with the instructor."

The advantage of taking a formal class is that you can become CPR-certified, which is often required for certain types of jobs, such as caring for children or the elderly.

But Moorhead said people shouldn’t think that because they aren’t certified, they can’t respond to an emergency.

There are ways to learn CPR that don’t require a huge investment of time. The heart association sells a "CPR Anytime" kit that allows people to practice their skills at home. The agency is also promoting a technique called "Hands-Only CPR," which doesn’t include mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

"Some people are afraid to put their mouth on somebody they don’t know, so we came out with the Hands-Only CPR for untrained people, so at least they can start doing chest compressions," Moorhead said.

One other concern that some people have is liability. What if the victim survives but later claims that your actions caused them harm?

Siegfried said legislation has been passed in Georgia that should eliminate that concern.

"There’s ‘Good Samaritan’ laws that protect you against a lawsuit if you were trying your best to help," he said.



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