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February 06, 2013 // By Holly Auer // Comments

Lend a Hand, Save a Life

Community // Emergency Medicine // Heart // Heart Month 2013 // Patient Care Share this article

To celebrate February as American Heart Month, the News Blog is highlighting some of the latest heart-centric news and stories from all areas of Penn Medicine.

Lend a Hand_CPR Challenge with partner logosThe Pennsylvania HeartRescue Project, led by the Center for Resuscitation Science in Penn’s department of Emergency Medicine, has partnered with the American Heart Association and the Pennsylvania Bureau of Emergency Medical Services to form the “Lend A Hand, Save a Life” CPR Challenge, which launched last month and will continue through late May. The initiative aims to train 250,000 people across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). The goal? To equip more people with the simple skill that is so essential to saving the lives of victims of cardiac arrest, which remains a leading killer across the United States. In most cities, survival rates still don’t exceed 10 percent, and those numbers haven’t budged in 30 years, despite advances in so many other areas of cardiac care. Innovations like therapeutic hypothermia are helping move the needle and cut brain damage among cardiac arrest survivors, but the real opportunity to save lives comes before patients even get to the hospital, in the crucial moments right after they arrest – at home, on the street, on sports fields or running trails, in office buildings. Getting CPR quickly can double or even triple a person’s chance of surviving sudden cardiac arrest.

Although many people who’ve received CPR training in the past may recall it as a complex series of chest compressions and rescue breaths that need to be delivered in a specific ratio, research has shown that bystander CPR delivered “hands-only” style – with no rescue breaths – is also an effective strategy in teenagers and adults, since blood remains oxygenated enough to nourish cells in the brain and other parts of the body for several minutes. Hands-only CPR simplifies the traditional process, by calling for just three easy steps. First, call 911. Second, push hard and fast in the center of the victim’s chest (experts recommend humming or thinking of the Bee-Gees hit, “Stayin’ Alive,” which has the proper tempo – 100 beats per minute – to keep blood flowing adequately throughout the body). Third, send someone to find an automated external defibrillator (AED) and follow the instructions to shock the victim’s heart back into a normal rhythm.

“People can learn how to perform this lifesaving skill in less than twenty minutes,” says Benjamin Abella, MD, vice chair of research in the department of Emergency Medicine and clinical research director in the Center for Resuscitation Science. “We want to remove barriers to training and show members of the public that anyone can save a life – cardiac arrest is a rare example of a medical emergency for which someone with no medical training can make a huge impact on a patient’s chance of surviving.”

Inspiring local stories underscore the important role of lay bystanders. Last winter, for instance, a SEPTA employee and a passenger jumped into action to save the life of a man who collapsed while waiting for his train home at 30th Street Station. When the three were reunited at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania just days later, the man and his family called the rescuers their “angels” for taking such swift action to help him.

At a kick-off event during the Pennsylvania Farm Show last month, leaders of the Lend a Hand, Save a Life initiative trained over 1,500 people. Moving forward, the organizers are offering resources for schools, sports teams, community groups, and businesses to stage large-scale training events during, say, half-times of sporting events or during intermissions at concerts. Last week, EMS providers demonstrated hands-only CPR for a crowd of more than 34,000 people at the Groundhog Day celebrations in Punxsutawney, PA and more than 2,600 fans recently enjoyed a half-time demo at a Bucknell University basketball game in Lewisburg, PA. The Penn HeartRescue Project team is planning an event in the Philadelphia area for the spring. Prizes will be awarded to organizations that train the most people.

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