On December 13, 2007, Congress unanimously passed a resolution to observe a week each year for cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED) awareness. That week, known officially as CPR & AED Awareness Week, each year is June 1-7 and is designed to focus on the lifesaving benefits of knowing CPR and how to use an AED.
With assistance from numerous national and local organizations, such as the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross to name a couple, the first responder community steps up to help members of their community understand how essential it is that everyone knows the steps of CPR and how to use AEDs found in public places such as in schools, government buildings, sports and entertainment venues, and fitness centers.
This year, the country, and possibly the world, saw the effectiveness of proper training play out in real time on national TV and social media. Damar Hamlin, defensive back for the Buffalo Bills, collapsed on the field during the beginning stages of a game against the Cincinnati Bengals in early January. He had just suffered a sudden cardiac arrest and needed immediate emergency medical intervention. Ultimately, the on-field care he received saved his life, and he is now cleared to play again next season.
Read on to learn why CPR/AED Week needs to be every week in your community.
CPR Week in History
Many first responder organizations plan to sponsor events such as open houses, CPR training classes or demos, heart-walks/runs, or through exhibits in well-traveled locations such as community centers or shopping malls. Some have ceremonies recognizing survivors and the teams that provided their life-saving care.
Having personally been involved in many of these events as a paramedic, educator and advocate, I can say safely say that every bit of the time spent planning and executing each event was well worth it when considering the potential that those in attendance will someday recognize sudden cardiac arrest and begin CPR.
One of my favorite memories of this week was on June 4, 2015, when I had the privilege, with my grandson Devon, to participate in the CPR Relay in Times Square. This was a record-setting event at the time, in which hundreds were trained on how to properly administer CPR. Who knows how many of these individuals went on to save lives in their communities. Even if they answer is zero, hundreds of people were prepared to if called upon.
Cardiac Incidents According to the Data
At the risk of generalizing, I believe the most successful communities in terms of survival of sudden cardiac arrest have a laser focus on the teamwork and training required to strengthen the links in the chain of survival. They have made the commitment and own the results every day, not just one week each June.
There are many helpful statistics that help to illustrate the sheer importance of good, community-wide CPR education. For example:
- Each year more then 350,000 EMS assessed out of hospital cardiac arrests occur in the United States;
- According to the American Heart Association, about 90 percent of people who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrest die. However, CPR, if performed immediately, can double or even triple the chance of survival;
- Over 70 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur in the home;
- Over 15 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest occur in a public location;
- Many of these locations have AEDs, yet the bystander use remains around 10 percent;
- 9 in 10 cardiac arrest victims who receive a shock from an AED in the first minute live.
Resuscitation rates for sudden cardiac arrest across the country range from 5 to 60 percent. What’s the rate in your community? If it is not close to the top perhaps it is a good time for some serious analysis of the level of commitment.
The most successful EMS systems have known for over 40 years now that everyone, yes everyone, needs to know the simple steps of CPR as well as be willing to start CPR before public safety officials arrive on scene. You might be thinking, “How do they train with a goal of everyone?” The answer is multiple strategies, constantly provided throughout your community. Thanks to the internet on your smart phone, the simplified CPR (hand-only) procedure, and lots of communities with best practices they are willing to share, increasing the percentage of citizens who know CPR is definitely an achievable goal.
In my years as a part-time paramedic in a suburban community in upstate New York, I observed what I refer to as a paradigm shift. Prior to 2000, successful resuscitations were few and far between and not an expected result. In 2005, the guidelines around proper CPR technique changed significantly emphasizing high quality CPR with little to no interruptions, pushing hard, deep, and fast at 100 beats per minute and allowing full chest recoil between each compression. A fresh rescuer would be cycled in every 2 minutes to eliminate fatigue. There was lots of teamwork training, a small amount of new equipment, updated protocols and focus on reviewing every cardiac arrest to constantly improve. Add to this tons of community CPR training and the results continue to pay off with a 50 percent 5-year cumulative survival-to-hospital discharge rate for cardiac arrest witnessed by bystanders with an initial ECG rhythm of VF. Prior to my retirement, after 35 years of service to the community, I observed a paradigm shift of my own: the paramedics now expected the sudden cardiac arrest patient to survive!
The Message is Simple and Especially Important Post-Pandemic.
Prior to 2020, many communities were working hard to increase citizen participation in CPR and the results were paying off. During the pandemic, with lockdowns and widespread fear, bystander CPR rates dropped off. However, they are once again coming back up making this year’s efforts more essential. Just a personal observation, although I do not have a specific research article to quote, the percentage of survival to hospital discharge for bystander witnessed nontraumatic sudden cardiac arrest with an initial ECG of VF (aka; Utstein survival rate) seems to approximate the percentage of the community trained and willing to start CPR in each community. Thus this training is so important!
The skill of hands-Only CPR is simple. When you see a teen or adult suddenly collapse (suspecting a cardiac arrest):
- Call 911 (cell phone on speaker the dispatcher will assist you while sending help)
- Push hard and fast in the center of the chest (rate of 100-120 compressions per minute)
If there is an AED nearby send a helper to go get it. Be sure to demonstrate how easy it is to use the AED on a victim of sudden cardiac arrest. In addition, it is helpful to tell what response they should get in your community and the value of having large easy to read numbers on their home so first responders can locate them.
As I stated earlier, Damar Hamlin was confirmed to have suffered his sudden cardiac arrest during a game. Thanks to the immediate actions of the team trainers and first responders in the application of CPR and an AED he was successfully resuscitated. Hamlin is now doing well, recuperating, and training to return to the Bills for the start of the 2023 season. He has also become an active advocate for CPR training as well as appeared before Congress to encourage passage of the Access to AEDs Act.
Remember that your survivors are some of your best advocates for community support of CPR and AEDs. If engaged and involved, they can be awesome advocates for policy/legislative/budget enhancements. If you want to meet a room full of survivors and learn their stories, consider attending the next Cardiac Arrest Survival Summit in San Diego, CA this coming December.
Resources for CPR & AED Week and Training
As first responders, we need to remember that survival from sudden cardiac arrest occurs primarily in the field. So, let’s be clear on this, WE OWN IT. The hospitals cannot bring back the dead, but they can often do magic on patients brought in with return of a spontaneous pulse where a community member started CPR promptly and your team continued state of the art field care.
The solutions to improving survival and changing the paradigm in your community are out there for those who take the time and energy to reaffirm their commitment to save lives in their community.
So have a great CPR and AED Awareness week and let’s all find ways to engage everyone in your community throughout the rest of the year!
About the author:
Bob Elling, MPA, Paramedic (retired) – has been a career paramedic, educator, author, and EMS advocate since 1975. He was a paramedic with the Town of Colonie EMS Department, Times Union Center, and Whiteface Mountain Medical Services. He was an Albany Medical Center Clinical Instructor assigned to the Hudson Valley Community College Paramedic Program. He has served as National and Regional Faculty for the AHA and was involved in many successful life-saving legislative campaigns with the You’re the Cure Network. He also served as paramedic and lieutenant for New York City EMS, paramedic program director and associate director of the New York State EMS Bureau. He has authored hundreds of articles, videos, and textbooks to prepare the EMS provider for their career. Bob is the ECSI Medical Editor for CPR and First Aid Series of products and the Co-Lead Editor of Nancy Caroline’s Emergency Care in the Streets.