I was stunned to see Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapse on the field with cardiac arrest during the Jan. 2 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. And, like many of us, I was relieved to see cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillation (AED) administered on the field before he quickly was sent to a local hospital in critical condition.
That the medical staff tending to Hamlin were trained in CPR and AED came as no surprise – and it underscores the important role these procedures can play in saving lives, as they certainly did with the Bills’ defensive back. Hamlin underwent a remarkably speedy recovery in the hospital and is now home recuperating.
As opposed to a heart attack, cardiac arrest refers to the abrupt loss of heart function in a person who may or may not have been diagnosed with heart disease. It can come on suddenly, as was the case with Hamlin, or follow other symptoms. A number of irregular heart rhythms, such as tachycardia (where the person has a heart rate of over 100 beats a minute, compared with 40 to 100 bpm for most resting adults), can lead to cardiac arrest.
The American Heart Association reports that about 350,000 Americans die from cardiac arrest each year, making it one of the most common causes of death in the U.S. While that is a big number, the AHA says that immediate CPR can double or even triple the chances of survival after cardiac arrest.
Most people are familiar with at least the basics of CPR from watching a movie or TV scene where the hero starts pressing on a victim’s chest and counting.
It is of course a bit more complicated than that. Knowing when/how often to make those chest compressions is vastly important. While performing CPR, one should apply chest compressions at a rate of 100 to 120 beats per minute (bpm), according to AHA.
How do you measure those beats during such a crisis? The AHA recommends – believe it or not – that you keep the hit song “Stayin’ Alive,” or another memorable song at 100-120 bpm, in mind (at regular speed, of course). It may sound corny, but it’s certainly an easy thing to remember.
What if you’re in a situation where someone is suffering a cardiac arrest and your knowledge is limited to what you’ve seen on television? The answer: call 911 (as you would even if you know CPR), and then do what you can. Any action is preferable to taking no action at all.
As for an AED, if you are fortunate enough to have access to one in such a situation, it is relatively easy to use. Most have instructions printed right on them, along with verbal instructions and visual prompts; again, they can make a real difference while waiting for an EMT or other medical professional to arrive.
Many of us are reluctant to put ourselves into a situation involving people we don’t know (or, in some cases, even those we do) – a perhaps understandable point of view, given the litigious society we live in. However, good Samaritan laws allow even the untrained to do what they can to save another person’s life; even if those actions do not achieve the desired results, one can take solace from the fact that they did their best.
There are a number of places where one can learn and be certified in CPR, including some (but not all) firehouses, places of worship, schools, and online. One resource you can explore is the American Red Cross, which has a searchable site here.
An average CPR training class lasts two or three hours, with an exam at the end. Upon passing the exam, you will receive a certificate testifying to your accreditation, which in New York lasts for two years.
Benefiting yourself and those around you when it comes to good health should always be an essential goal; I especially encourage new parents to learn CPR, should their child unfortunately suffer a choking incident or other event that affects their breathing.
The AHA maintains that, with your help, we can reshape the world into one where no one dies of cardiac arrest – certainly a goal worth aiming for.
Dr. Gary Gabelman is a cardiologist at White Plains Hospital. He sees patients at our White Plains office. To make an appointment, call 914-849-4800.