Every year, over 350,000 Americans experience an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest—not to be confused with heart attack—occurs when an abnormal heart rhythm causes the heart to stop beating. Victims typically lose consciousness immediately and have no discernible pulse.
Without immediate intervention, most cardiac arrest sufferers will die within minutes as their organs shut down. That’s why, if you see someone fall victim to cardiac arrest, there are three things you must do immediately.
1) Perform CPR
The first step is always to perform CPR on the victim. This should be done immediately and without hesitation. If you’re certified or trained, you want to follow the C-A-B (Compressions, Airway, Breathing) protocol. If you’re not trained, focus only on chest compressions.
The goal is to push down firmly on the center of the chest at a depth of 2 to 2.4 inches and at a steady pace of 100 to 120 beats per minute. This will help to keep the blood circulating. The chest should recoil completely between each compression.
If you’re not sure how to determine the appropriate pace, try performing compressions to the beat of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.”
2) Call 9-1-1
Ideally, you want to have someone else call 9-1-1 while you continue to perform CPR—conversely, you can call 9-1-1 while someone else performs CPR. The important thing is to keep the CPR going.
If you’re the only person around besides the cardiac arrest sufferer, dial 9-1-1 quickly and speak to emergency services on speaker mode while continuing to perform CPR. Notify the dispatcher that the victim is unconscious due to cardiac arrest and that emergency medical services are needed immediately.
3) Use a Defibrillator (if Available)
If CPR alone doesn’t revive the victim, the next step is to restore normal heart rhythm using an automated external defibrillator (AED). These devices use electric shock to restart the heart, and they’re up to 90% successful when used quickly and properly.
If you’re in a public space, like a school, office, or hotel, an AED may be available. If possible, have someone deliver the device to you while you continue to perform CPR.
When you turn on the device, it should provide you with audible instructions for use. Some models, like the Defibtech Lifeline View, even have full-color visual demonstrations that you can follow.
You’ll need to attach the pads to the victim’s bare chest according to the diagram on the back of each pad. You may then be required to press a “Shock” button. Make sure that no part of the victim is wet or submerged in water, and never place the pads directly over a medical patch or pacemaker—in emergency situations, you can place the pads an inch away from the pacemaker if necessary.
If no AED is available, just continue to perform CPR until emergency services arrive. The emergency medical personnel will have a defibrillator on hand that they can then use to revive the patient.
Remember that every minute counts. If you witness a cardiac arrest, respond immediately. The three actions on this list can quite literally save lives, and you have the power to prevent the unthinkable from happening.