Science Scene: Abbreviated courses aim to increase number of CPR-certified people

Ellen Airhart

One hundred years ago, a failing heart meant a death sentence. Now, with cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, a pulse can be restored.

 CPR is an emergency procedure for people who have stopped breathing and are unresponsive. Successful CPR provides blood circulation to deliver necessary oxygen and nutrients when the heart stops working. Lack of circulation causes brain damage that is often irreversible, even if the heart later recovers to full functionality. 

Preferably, CPR is used with an automated external defibrillator, or AED. AEDs are portable electronic devices that apply electrical shocks to help the heart re-establish a
normal rhythm.

The aims of CPR and AED use are clear, but the practice constantly changes. In 2010, the American Heart Association changed its standards for CPR performed on adults. The association now emphasizes high-quality chest compressions, which should be at least two inches deep and performed at a rate of at least 100 compressions a minute. Singing the Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive” is an easy way to hit 100 beats per minute.

Louis Gonzales is the co-founder of TAKE10, a program in which participants learn CPR in two minutes and spend eight more minutes practicing their technique. TAKE10, and programs like it, only teach the compression portion of CPR and how to use an AED. The class avoids subjects that might keep people from CPR, such as the fact that CPR usually breaks the patient’s ribs.

 “Your ribs can heal, but if you die, it doesn’t matter,” Gonzales said. “Talking about the things that deter people from CPR is not beneficial to the cardiac arrest victim.”

Theatre and dance junior Jane Hayes is the director of Longhorn EMS and has worked for three years as an emergency responder.

“There is no better feeling in the world than finding a once absent pulse,” Hayes said.

If CPR and the AED are used properly, the likelihood that a patient will walk out of the hospital increases from 7 percent to 38 percent, as shown in a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Despite the high success rate, bystanders don’t usually perform CPR. The American Heart Association reported that only about 30 percent of the population is trained to perform CPR. The goal of classes such as TAKE10 is to increase this number by abbreviating the time it takes to finish a CPR instructional course. 

“As students, we spend hundreds of hours studying material that may or may not be relevant to us in the future,” Hayes said. “It is possible to learn CPR in a single afternoon, which may actually save lives.” 

Gonzales said people may be unwilling to perform CPR for different reasons even if they have been certified. They may feel uncomfortable touching strangers who are obviously unwell or feel anxiety about remembering the details about performing CPR. 

 “Most people want to help, but they’re afraid of hurting someone by not doing CPR perfectly,” Gonzales said.

 Gonzales emphasizes that imperfect compressions are better than no attempt at CPR.

 “Knowing how to perform CPR does not save lives,” Gonzales said. “You have to combine that with the willingness to act. It may not be perfect, but doing something is more effective than doing nothing.”