Hands-Only CPR: Saving a Life Becomes Easier


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  126 comments   :  23,838 Views

When I received my CPR recertification last June my instructor recounted an incident she had heard about from a former student regarding the reality of those who may be too frightened to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (AKA CPR). We may know what to do, but what happens when it is time to implement the measures should someone collapse in our presence. The story has a tragic ending, however, it is a lesson we all can learn from.

A few years ago a gentleman at a local road race collapsed and suffered a heart attack while on the course and even though people stopped to help, no one administered CPR. The bystanders called 911 and made sure the man was comfortable, but sadly that was as far as the help went. By the time the first responders arrived at the scene the gentleman was deceased.

Unfortunately this isn't an isolated story. People are often too fearful of implementing a technique they only practiced on mannequins. And when it comes time to put this to the test, fear of doing further harm can stand in the way of helping another human being.

Using the previous CPR guidelines, remembering the number of compressions to the number of breaths in an emergency situation can leave many people feeling overwhelmed. The fear of doing more harm than good takes over and sadly this fear can be the difference between life and death.

CPR was first introduced to physicians 50 years ago and to the general population in the early 1970's. It is something that many of us learned in our high school health class and hopefully something that we will never have to use. But how many of us, unless consistently recertified, remember the number of compressions to breaths?

Recently I heard a radio snippet regarding the American Heart Association's new campaign Hands Only CPR. This campaign was established to make CPR less complicated for anyone who may find themselves in need of performing this life-saving technique. One no longer needs to worry about the number of compressions to breaths--the idea is to pump hard and fast in the center of the chest until the first responders arrive.

While none of us ever wants to find ourselves in a position to use CPR, doing so can be the difference between life and death for anyone who may find themselves suffering a debilitating heart attack. I hope you will take time to get certified in CPR by taking a class through the American Red Cross or any other certification program. And if not, take a look at the link above and know that we all have the power in our own hands to save someone's life should the need arise.

Have you heard about the American Heart Association's "Hands Only CPR" campaign? Have you ever had to use CPR? Would you be willing to use this new technique more so than the older version?

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  • 76
    I really do need to refresh my CPR skills, because I don't know about this. I have not ever had to do CPR, but I am not squimish about stuff like that. - 4/29/2010   1:06:02 PM
  • 75
    I have done CPR on one occasion to a stranger. The one thing everyone needs to remember is you are only doin cest compressions on a dead person. And since this person is already dead you cannot do more harm to them. For some people actually performing the task is very scary and if you are not able to do not feel bad. I believe everyone in a family and work enviroment should learn CPR because what if only one person as that knowledge and that is the person who goes down?

    Final comment ~ Do NOT be afraid! The person is already DEAD! Just do it and do it to the best of your ability. - 4/29/2010   1:00:28 PM
    I recert in CPR every couple of years since I was about 15. I was a swimming teacher in school and college and them had a summer job with the CCG. So I needed it. Had to use it once as part of my summer job with the CCG and once on my grandmother.
    In grad school I did a chaplaicy course at a local hospital and the nurses kept teasing me about being the first student who had her CPR training. It became a bit of a joke because their never was a code when I was on the florr, only after I left. - 4/29/2010   12:54:24 PM
  • 73
    I worked as a nurse, but never had to do CPR. I certainly could do it to save someone in an emergency. I never panic as that is just stupid to do when it is all the time you have. As the astronaut said "I could have bounced off the walls for ten minutes in a panic and then came back to my senses only to find the same problem and I'd wasted ten minutes not solving it." - 4/29/2010   12:52:43 PM
  • 72
    My background is nursing and yes, I've had to respond in car accidents as a lay person. Fortunately CPR wasn't necessary any time I had to assist. I was also trained to deal with disasters, so I was very quick and efficient with field CPR. The last time I took training it was the other way of doing CPR and I realized that I couldn't carry it out any longer. Even hands-on I would be hesitant. I do not have the physical ability anymore to carry out CPR in the manner that is necessary and keep going until assistance arrived. That's the piece that is missing from this discussion - you have to continue CPR until assistance arrives, even if that means doing it for a full hour. The golden rule with CPR is that you do not start unless you can continue until assistance arrives. The other golden rule, you cannot stop unless you physically collapse with exhaustion or emergency assistance arrives, relieves you from this. The bottom line is, it'll be a tough choice to make - walk away and get help, remain and carry out CPR with hopes that the person will revieve. In my training when we were nurses, we discussed these philosphoical issues all the time. And I'd recommend people do that because it does help you prepare your head for the time you come across this and have to make that decision at that moment. Personally I would like to see more of the new device to shock the heart that are now in many hockey arenas and public areas, rather than rely on any lay person carrying out CPR. The instructions are on the machine, it's been proven very effective. If such a machine had been at the racetrack - in reference to the example of the gentleman dying because no one carried out CPR - there might have been a chance he would have lived. It's something our community has been looking into for our local arena. - 4/29/2010   12:51:19 PM
    I have had CPR training twice in my life. Both times I had the "opportunity" to use it, and both times I didn't. I don't think the outcome would have been different in either case, but I am so disappointed in myself for panicking. The first time, I was in my early 20s and my grandfather, who had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer, had a heart attack. He had a Do Not Resuscitate order, but that didn't even occur to me. I just panicked. In my 40s, just a couple of years ago, I had CPR training again, and in the grocery store, there were TWO customers who went down within 5 minutes of each other, in different parts of the store. It turned out that I wasn't needed, as there were several others on the scene who were better trained than me, and had plenty of experience. I've never forgotten it. Except for this, I'm pretty good in a crisis - I can think clearly about what needs to be done, when and by whom. It really bothers me that I'm so afraid to do CPR. I'm being trained again in May, this time not for certification, but at an event that my husband (a paramedic) is coordinating to train (hopefully) a record number of people in one event.

    Not that I wish for the opportunity to use CPR skills EVER...but if I ever do, I hope I can come through! - 4/29/2010   12:43:39 PM
  • 70
    I would be much more willing to do this procedure on a stranger. The other way can expose you to far too many unknowns. I am not an EMT so I am not equipped to protect myself to do the regular CPR. It is comforting to know that I could still do something while waiting for help. - 4/29/2010   12:19:10 PM
  • 69
    @Laurance - I would think the Good Samaritan law would protect the rescuer in that case because how was s/he supposed to know that CPR wouldn't help? There's really no way to tell. I mean, if you're doing CPR on someone, they're already "mostly dead" - no heartbeat, no breathing. You can save someone's life, but even if you don't, you did the right thing. As a lay responder (I'm assuming the rescuer was not a medical professional with a duty to act), s/he wouldn't worry about a do-not-resuscitate order (DNR). While the wife may have been upset, I think the rescuer did the right thing.

    One of the instructors at our chapter told me a story. He is an EMT as well as an instructor and he witnessed the collapse of a gentleman on the jetway from an airplane to the airport. The man's wife, although a retired nurse, was panicked and couldn't help very well, so the instructor stepped in. He had the victim's wife hold open the airway while he performed compressions. The wife gave breaths (easy! no breathing barrier necessary!) and they performed CPR until the airport EMS arrived.

    The man survived a few more weeks. He and his wife were on their way to the Caribbean for a vacation as he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Performing CPR did save this man's life, and he and his wife were very grateful for the few more weeks they had together before he ultimately passed.

    That's why I would do CPR, even on a total stranger. - 4/29/2010   12:17:02 PM
  • 68
    In case anyone is wondering - most regions have Good Samaritan laws in place to protect responders to emergencies. So as long as you act in good faith, aren't negligent or reckless, and act within the scope of your training, you should be okay - even if the patient dies or you break ribs. Broken ribs are treatable, death is not.

    CPR, AED, and First Aid classes are great to help you feel comfortable acting in emergencies. Honestly, I hope I never ever have to perform CPR, but I know that I would if I had to, because it's a matter of life and death for the person (and I carry a ton of breathing barriers with me - they're inexpensive and not too bulky), whereas it's just an "ick factor" for me. I'm sorry, but in that situation, the life or death situation outweighs the ick factor.

    My general advice to all of you is that if there is anyone in your life that you'd want to save in case of a medical emergency, take a class from a reputable organization (American or Canadian Red Cross, American Heart Association, and the like). See if you don't feel more prepared to handle a medical emergency afterward.

    And even complete strangers are someone's beloved family members, friends... whomever you help, s/he is important to somebody. - 4/29/2010   12:13:55 PM
  • 67
    Personally, I think the reason why people don't act in an emergency is because they don't like the idea of having to put their mouths on a total stranger laying on the floor for the breathing aspect of CPR. If they knew it was okay to do "hands only" and just do chest compressions- I think many more would be okay with jumping in for that.

    BTW- I am an RN and yes, it's much easier to do CPR when you have access to the proper equipment. But when out on the street and no face mask is handy... it's just different. I think Hands-Only is a good thing. And compressions alone is MUCH better than doing NOTHING for sure. We only use a portion of our oxygen supply with each breath anyway- so even if some of the blood gets recirculated a bit (without the breathing part of the CPR) in place- there is STILL at least some blood flow. Even compressions alone (when done deep enough)- will move some air in and out of the patient anyway.

    I really don't think a "fear of doing the compressions/respirations ratio wrong" thing is the true reason why people hesitate to act. I've seen many codes in my medical career- and the ratio/timing is not always exact anyway. What's important is that SOMETHING is being done, IMO. - 4/29/2010   11:45:21 AM
  • 66
    This is really sad to say, but I would be very afraid of the liability involved in helping someone unless you are a trained medical professional. Hopefully if I'm ever in that situation, I won't worry about that... - 4/29/2010   11:41:52 AM
    I am a BLS (Basic Life Support -a.k.a. CPR) Instructor and we always tell our students that chest compressions are the key once you've established an open airway. - 4/29/2010   11:37:09 AM
  • 64
    Nineteen years ago this summer, I had to use the CPR I had been taught, 1 breath, 5 compressions. My youngest son, then 2, had jumped into the pool behind me expecting me to catch him but I had no idea he had come into the pool area. I found him at the bottom of the pool. I got him out of the pool and onto the deck and determined that he had no pulse, wasnt breathing and was blue. I began CPR and for a couple of minutes (the longest ones in my life) had no reaction. Then he coughed and I gave him another breath, then he coughed, opened his eyes and began crying. It was the sweetest sound I had ever heard. I urge everyone to learn CPR and be prepared to use it, especially if you are a parent or grandparent. My son turns 21 in May. - 4/29/2010   11:37:06 AM
  • SUNSET09
    I have attended CPR class as well as certified. It's important for all to know how and what to do during emergency situations as it's all good until it's needed. Anytime is a good time to learn. I am so thankful to and for the American Red Cross. - 4/29/2010   11:36:11 AM
  • 62
    My certification has lapsed too, but I know that just doing the chest compressions can make a difference. I've never had to use it, but I'm ready if I need to! - 4/29/2010   11:30:39 AM
    Wow - so interesting - I have let my certification lapse and am anxious to be recertified. Thanks! - 4/29/2010   11:20:26 AM
  • 60
    I was certified in CPR when I was in tech school 20 years ago, but I haven't gone to a recertification class in quite a few years so technically I'm no longer certified. Thankfully I've never had to utilize what I learned in that original certification class. I've always felt certain that I would perform CPR if I ever found myself in a position to need to do so, but I've always had a fear of having someone throw up in my mouth if I was giving a breath when they revived. (Kind of a trivial thing to worry about, but it's what I worried about.)

    I've heard about compression only CPR and my only worry about that is whether or not I'd have the strength to keep on doing compressions until other help arrived, but I know that I'd give it my best shot. I'm not at all worried about the possibility of being sued if the person dies because every state has what are referred to as Good Samaritan laws which don't allow a person to be sued for trying to help unless they do something really outrageous. After the recent news about the man who was stabbed and then died because not a single person stopped to try to help him in any way, even calling 911, I hope that we would all be willing to at least attempt CPR on a person who needed it.

    - 4/29/2010   11:20:18 AM
  • 59
    I get certified in CPR/AED every year, well, for the last 3 years anyway. It's much easier to remember now than when I was younger and first certified! I hope I would have the courage to act if presented with the situation. I also hope I never have to find out. - 4/29/2010   11:15:23 AM
  • 58
    i've never heard of hand only CPR but there is real merit in the learning rescue breaths.

    one of the earlier commentators on this blog also asked if they are liable if the person worsen, still dies, etc. all 50 states have "good samaritan" laws. taking a CPR class will teach you under what circumstances to administer care as well as what the law is your particular state. you will also become familiar with what to do in many different types of emergencies--seizures, choking heart attack. some people haven't the slightest clue what to do when someone goes into shock and doing something as simple as giving a person H2O under the wrong conditions can make a difference as well and i don't mean positively. not only that but it is relatively easy and inexpensive to get re-certified every year so one can sharpen their skills.

    i have had both CPR and first certifications off and on as a requirement of my employment for the last 15+ years and have the opportunity to assist people in potentially life threatening situations on a number of occasions. as long as you have the basics and learn not to panic, you can be very instrumental in getting yourself and others through all types of crises including natural disasters. if you live in earthquake country like i do or tornado alley, it may be awhile before responders can get to us in a real situation. just something to think about... - 4/29/2010   11:10:44 AM
  • 57
    I've taken CPR training but it was only for about an hour and I feel like I've forgotten a lot of it. I should relearn it! - 4/29/2010   11:03:12 AM
  • 56
    I don't know how I would react in the moment, but I certainly hope I would have the courage to jump in and save someone's life! - 4/29/2010   10:56:33 AM
  • 55
    I have taken the CPR training at work and learned how to use the defib machine as well. I hope I would have the courage to do use this training if I was ever put in that situation. - 4/29/2010   10:55:33 AM
  • 54
    they have defib units nowadays, make sure ur employer has one. we have training classes every year on both. - 4/29/2010   10:43:55 AM
  • 53
    I have a co-worker who knows she really should learn CPR, but is afraid that she might have to use it. She feels that she doesn't have the ability to save someone's life. I've told her everyone has the ability. You don't have to be special to know or administer CPR. But, she won't take the training, she's terrified. And she's not alone. There are many Americans who wouldn't step up to help someone because they are afraid that they would do something wrong.

    As another person noted, there are good samaritan laws in many countries. Those laws protect people who do step in to help.

    Also, for those of you who had CPR a long time ago, you should retake the class. Red Cross CPR certification is only good for one year. So, I retake the class every year. If I don't, I can't work at the gym. As I said earlier, I took CPR in high school. What I learned back then is very different from what I learned this year.

    The Red Cross is moving towards hands only CPR because more people will do that.

    - 4/29/2010   10:30:21 AM
  • 52
    I had not heard of this American Heart Assoc. hands on CPR. I am going to be taking a look at the link. I did take a CPR course a very long time ago, and have not been receritified. I do have a young son and aging parents. My mom has heart issues and I would like to think that if she were to collapse I could do something besides call 911 to help keep her with me. I have been fortunate enough not to have to rely on my memory to do any CPR, but whenever we've seen a car accident and help has not arrived, I am always ready to 1st make sure my son is secure in the car and run to help. I am not sure what I could do, but I am always willing to overcome my fear and do something to help a person in need. Thanks for this article, its given me another area to focus and set a goal on. I think if people are better prepared they are more likely to go that extra step. I do think that a lot of people have in the back's of their mind the worry of being sued for actually doing something positive to help someone in need. Its a sad world when that thought has to cross your mind. - 4/29/2010   10:25:11 AM
  • 51
    This a wonderful reassurance to those who may have taken classes but have never had refreshers. It certainly encourages me. It's been many years since my community CPR course and refreshers.
    They DO make a point that this is for a witnessed sudden collapse, so it for most people helping family and friends I think it will be a relief to know that anything will help.
    I also remember one course instructor saying that in one-man CPR to not worry too much about breath to compression rate, but just do it and stop to breath now and again- that compressions are more important. - 4/29/2010   10:10:04 AM
  • 50
    Someone above asked where on the chest to put your hands. If you follow the link in Nancy's blog about hands-on CPR, there's a link to watch a video & it shows you where to put your hands & what to do. Good blog, Nancy; thanks!!! - 4/29/2010   10:00:06 AM
  • 49
    I am a nurse and just took my biannual refresher course. The instructor is an active paramedic with the fire department. Of course they still teach us the compression to ventilation ratio and things are obviously done differently in the hospital setting vs outside. But most importantly the new guidelines are that compressions are what really matter. There is enough oxygen remaining in the blood supply that to compress the heart and try to get the oxygen rich blood circulated is way better than nothing at all. And to the person commenting that they would be afraid to "do it wrong" and not know where to put their hands... well believe me, if I was dying, I would rather you break my ribs and even puncture my lung (because those things can be fixed) than to let my heart stop because you were worried you could hurt me. Hurt me all you want because you might save my life!!! - 4/29/2010   10:00:01 AM
  • 48
    Sadly I've taken a CPR class within the last year and don't remember how many compressions to breath. Besides a bad memory lol the instructor kept giving us two different counts. She was quoting the old number of compressions to breaths, and the class was correcting her. Thanks for the link I'll review and engrave it in my brain. I wish they would offer a free class for CPR, more people would be qualified to save a life. - 4/29/2010   9:58:26 AM
  • 47
    Thanks for the information. I will follow up with the link provided-Glad you provided it. - 4/29/2010   9:46:53 AM
  • 46
    I regularly recertified while teaching but have now been retired 3 yrs.
    Thanks for the reminder. I'll be looking for a class. - 4/29/2010   9:40:04 AM
  • 45
    I read an article a while back about a study on this. Apparently they found that continuous compressions were better than stopping to do the breath. The ideal though was when two people were working together with one person doing the compressions continuously while the second person did the breaths. Thanks for posting the link - I've never had a CPR class, but think I could do the compressions on an adult in an emergency. - 4/29/2010   9:37:57 AM
  • 44
    It's hardly the ration of compressions to breaths that stops me. WHERE is the compression done? Middle of the chest is incredibly vague and you can actually injure someone if your hands are in the wrong place. THAT is what stop me. - 4/29/2010   9:34:17 AM
  • 43
    Thank you for this info! I have been CPR certified twice but have been afraid that I'll forget what I learned in the moment. This is much easier to remember! - 4/29/2010   9:15:26 AM
    If such an emergency arose, I'd try this method in a heartbeat! Seriously, if I were the victim, I'd surely want people to make that attempt. Thank you so much for the link to this video, Nancy! - 4/29/2010   9:11:44 AM
  • 41
    I don't know if it national, but when I was first getting certified for CPR, we were told that there were "good samaritan" laws that protected us from being sued in cases where perhaps CPR shouldn't have been given. The simple fact is, we can save lives as non-medical professionals, but we can't always know when it is a good idea. Should we simply let those who need our help slip away because it "might" not be good. Far more people are saved than harmed through CPR. In fact, if I remember correctly, the good samaritan law that I know about came about not because someone was harmed, but because someone was saved. He sued because the person who saved his life broke a rib. Yeah...

    Personally, I feel we have a moral responsibility to help when it is needed and if you know CPR, scared or not, we have to get in there and help. I think it is great that there are some new guidelines to help those who are afraid. - 4/29/2010   9:02:41 AM
  • 40
    Yes I have heard of the new version. I took a course years ago when it was the breathing and compression and even then wondered if I could do it to perhaps a stranger , not knowing the health issues that may be there........so the hands only deal was more appealing and would be more willing to give that aid if need be..........The song Staying Alive is what we need to keep in our head when doing thses compressions........and pray to God that it works! - 4/29/2010   8:59:06 AM
  • JUDI_B
    I just received my American Heart Association Certification card in the mail after completing the course at a local hospital. I would recommend it to everyone! Why not take the class; you never know when you may need it. CPR is still needed after administering AED. - 4/29/2010   8:51:07 AM
  • 38
    Somebody help me out here, please! I think it was Dear Abby or Ann Landers who printed a letter from a wife whose husband had had a heart attack. A well-meaning bystander did CPR and saved the man's life.

    But! But! The man had nevertheless been without oxygen long enough that he was left with irreversible brain damage, and would never recover consciousness or function. All the CPR did was prolong his death. The wife who wrote the letter wished that the bystander had left well enough alone and had not condemned her husband to a prolonged death on "life" support.

    Same thing happened to a woman we knew. This time it was doctors who revived her, long after her brain was gone. She died a week after the family told them to remove life support.

    Help me out here! When is CPR good and when is it counterproductive? Because I believe that it isn't always the right thing to do, I don't know what to do. Can a "good samaritan" be sued for helping if the help doesn't help? - 4/29/2010   8:42:55 AM
  • 37
    It was mentioned in my last CPR class (October of 09). They said that if you see the person collapse they have enough oxygen for a while, but if someone is pulled from a pool or you find someone not breathing and don't know how long they've been like that, you should use the breaths.

    Another song aside form Staying Alive that is 100 bpms is Another One Bites the Dust. So you can administer CPR to that beat if you like dark comedies and prefer Queen to the BeeGees - 4/29/2010   8:38:40 AM
  • 36
    I have never had to use it but became CPR certified at 14 when a family member was ill. It is good to have this knowledge and I everyone should take the time to learn. - 4/29/2010   8:14:08 AM
  • 35
    Schatzy - How terrifying. Thank God your daughter is fine now!
    I've heard about compression-only CPR. I'm happy that the word is out. - 4/29/2010   8:03:26 AM
  • 34
    My husband had to perform CPR on our then 12 month old daughter (she is now 14 years old). She had a febrile seizure and stopped breathing when I called my husband to help. Luckily he knew what to do (he is EMT Certified). I totally froze in that moment. I knew how to do it but in that moment everything went blank. I just sat there crying while my husband saved our daughter. He was on the phone with 911 and doing CPR.

    I like the new guidelines of just performing the compression. I think it will be easier to remember than the number of compressions to breaths.

    I also heard that alot of people are afraid they would catch something like a serious Virus by giving breath to someone or by being sued (everyone sues everyone these days) if they help and something goes wrong, God forbid. - 4/29/2010   7:47:41 AM
  • 33
    I'm a paramedic and CPR instructor and I think Compression Only CPR is great for anyone not in the health care field. It is empowering other to make a difference where they used to be intimidated by the "numbers" of CPR. The patient is not actually going without breaths as air is brought into the lungs with each compression because of the negative pressure that is created. I think we will see an increase in "saves" with the community learning this method. - 4/29/2010   7:45:01 AM
  • 32
    Chesst compressions only is better than nothing! I'm an EMT and have used both full CPR and the chest only method. To date, I haven't "saved" a life but it was not for lack of trying. The new method is less intimidating! - 4/29/2010   7:11:34 AM
  • 31
    I had not heard of it. Thanks. - 4/29/2010   6:59:24 AM
  • 30
    yes I have heard of it, and should really take the class - it's been over 20 years. I have never had a situation to use it so far, the hands-only sounds SO much easier. - 4/29/2010   6:54:55 AM
    Do something. That's the important message. Keep your calm, call 911, give your EXACT location and they will give you step by step CPR instructions and keep you on track, while getting assistance to you quickly. (from a 911 operator) - 4/29/2010   4:41:16 AM
  • 28
    I have heard of it and would definitely be more comfortable using this technique! - 4/29/2010   2:27:12 AM
  • 27
    I had to administer CPR this past Christmas and having heard about the hands-only CPR, began chest compressions after finding no pulse and no breath. A family member called 911 and the operator gave instructions to administer breaths and compressions, so I did. Bottom line, call 911 and DO something! I've been on both ends of the spectrum, not knowing what to do and knowing, and it definitely feels better to take action than to stand by helpless.
    - 4/29/2010   2:27:09 AM

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