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Saving our own lives-CPR is for everyone

By Sue-Ellen Brown

Local communities are being encouraged to take responsibility and work together to prevent unnecessary deaths from cardiac arrest. Take Heart Australia, a public advocacy organisation and registered charity, is introducing a national program called Heartsafe Communities to help make surviving a heart attack the norm rather than the exception.

Professor Paul Middleton, Chair of Take Heart Australia and Associate Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Sydney, says, “We want High-Quality Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (HQ-CPR) to be a life-skill like cleaning your teeth or tying your shoes.”

According to the Heart Foundation, each year 55,000 Australians will have a heart attack-that is one heart attack every 10 minutes. The chances of surviving dramatically improve if a bystander starts CPR immediately and for every minute that CPR is delayed the risk of dying increases by 10 per cent.  

Australia needs more Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) available in public places. Photo: Sue-Ellen Brown

Australia needs more Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) available in public places. Photo: Sue-Ellen Brown

Heartsafe Communities programs have been running in the United States since 2002 and, according to Professor Middleton, have had a significant impact. He said in Australia only 10 per cent of people who suffer cardiac arrest will survive, a stark contrast to Seattle where the survival rate is now over 60 per cent.

Professor Middleton says the aim of the program is to engage a community such as a town or suburb, or a club, workplace or organisation and support them to take responsibility to improve their response as a community to cardiac arrests. Take Heart Australia is currently working with pilot communities and organisations to design and implement the Australian program which will then be replicated across the country.

Professor Middleton believes the biggest job is rebranding CPR and marketing it as being very simple. He says that if people do it, they will save lives. “We all need to know how to recognise cardiac arrest when it happens, how to call for emergency services, how to do High-Quality CPR and how to use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).”

“Unfortunately CPR is prey to multiple myths,” he says. “People think cardiac arrest is rare, but it kills more people than cancer, stroke and road trauma put together and dealing with it is really, really simple.” He says people are usually surprised and pleased when they realise they don’t have to do mouth-to-mouth anymore if they don’t want to and that ‘hands only’ CPR (chest compressions) is fine.

People also think that using a publically accessible defibrillator is complicated and dangerous and should only be used by experts. Professor Middleton says Australia needs many more AEDs in public places like shopping centres and railway stations and people should be prepared to use them.

David Brignall, an intensive care paramedic based in regional NSW, agrees people need to take more responsibility. Over his 25-year career, he has observed an increasing reluctance for people to get involved and he says many people don’t know what to do or are afraid of doing something wrong so they don’t do anything.

Distances in country areas can sometimes means ambulance response is slower and valuable time can be lost. “If we arrive on the scene of a suspected cardiac arrest and no-one has started CPR then the chance of a good outcome is very slim. It does makes a difference every time and every minute counts,” said Mr Brignall.

Dr Ben Taylor, emergency physician at Liverpool Hospital, identified a gap in the Arabic speaking community in south western Sydney. Following the deaths of several young Arabic men, he realised their families did not know how to recognise a cardiac arrest, start CPR or understand that they should have called an ambulance. “I was really surprised to find that there was little information about CPR or training resources available for Arabic-speaking people,” Dr Taylor said.

With support from Liverpool City Council, Dr Taylor has developed a train-the-trainer program for the local Arabic community. Thirty people from countries including Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt have been trained so far with the expectation that each person will train another 10 people in their community.

“Every little bit helps,” Dr Taylor says. “You hope that if enough people have exposure to this information, read an article or watch a video then one day it may happen that they can make a difference to a loved one or a person sitting next to them.”


This article, Saving our own lives-CPR is for everyone, first appeared on Reportage Online.