Learn CPR… stat!

By: Alison Dunn Feb 14, 2011

Lifesaving skills could help save someone you know and love

Almost 80 per cent of cardiac arrests occur at home or in a residential environment, not out in public. That means odds are if you’re going to be performing CPR, it’s going to be on someone you know.

That’s why it’s important everyone learn basic CPR skills, says Les Johnson, director of training and services for St. John Ambulance. When a person goes into cardiac arrest, he says there are four things that need to happen to improve the odds of surviving, including:

  1. Early recognition. The faster you recognize someone is having a heart attack or going into cardiac arrest, the faster you can get help.
  2. Early access to medical care. If you suspect someone is having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately.
  3. CPR. As soon as you’ve called 9-1-1, start administering CPR right away until help arrives.
  4. Defibrillation. If defibrillation happens within eight minutes, chances of survival greatly increase.

How to tell if it’s cardiac arrest

While the symptoms of a heart attack or cardiac arrest can vary from person to person, there are some common symptoms. Keep an eye out for any of the following symptoms and call 9-1-1 immediately if you suspect someone is having a heart attack.

  • Sudden discomfort or pain that does not go away with rest
  • Pain that may be in the chest, neck, jaw, shoulder, arms or back
  • Pain that may feel like burning, squeezing, heaviness, tightness or pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Cool, clammy skin

Better safe than sorry

If you’re worried about performing CPR on someone, don’t let fear take over, warns Johnson. “If someone’s not breathing, you have to do something,” he says. “After approximately four minutes, brain cells start to die and it becomes hard to resuscitate someone.”

CPR won’t make the situation worse if someone’s not breathing, he adds. The sooner you start CPR (after calling 9-1-1), the better.

If you’re interested in learning CPR, both the Canadian Red Cross and St. John Ambulance offer training courses. You can take the course in about four to six hours, and Johnson says if you’re pinched for time, you can organize a course at your own home with friends and neighbours.

Finally, don’t forget to upgrade your CPR skills once a year, Johnson adds. Getting annual CPR training will ensure it is fresh in your memory in case someone close to you is in need of help.

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.