Bystander intervention can mean the difference between life and death.
A widely reported incident at an independent living facility in Bakersfield, California last month provides an opportunity to reinforce for the general public the importance, simplicity and effectiveness of basic lifesaving interventions. The Glenwood Gardens case involved a nurse on staff who did not perform CPR on an 87-year-old female resident, Lorraine Bayless, who had collapsed suddenly in cardiac arrest in the facility's dining room and did not have a "do-not-resuscitate order." Instead, the nurse chose to wait for the arrival of emergency medical services.
It is important for the public to understand that when sudden cardiac arrest occurs outside hospital settings, rapid initiation of CPR and defibrillation often means the difference between life and death. It is impossible to know whether Lorraine might have survived if someone at the scene had intervened, but we do know this much: If she had received immediate CPR, she would at least have had a chance.
Sadly, on average, only about 10 percent of people who suffer sudden cardiac arrest outside hospitals survive, but survival rates jump to nearly 40 percent when victims receive immediate CPR and treatment with defibrillators by bystanders. The odds of this occurring are greatly improved by widespread training of laypersons in CPR and the use of automated external defibrillators, and widespread deployment of AEDs.
It is important to understand that calling 911 -- a critical first step -- is not enough. Even the best emergency medical services often are unable to get to the scene within the narrow window of time -- about 3-5 minutes -- during which victims of sudden death are most likely to be successfully resuscitated.
What can the general public learn from this case?
1. Learn CPR and how to use an AED. These are fundamental lifesaving skills that everyone should possess. The person who may need your help in a sudden cardiac emergency will most likely be a family member, friend, or co-worker.
2. Never hesitate to use your lifesaving skills. If a person is in cardiac arrest, immediate CPR and treatment with an AED can only help. Further, Good Samaritan laws generally protect bystanders, who intervene in good faith, from legal liability risks.
3. If you have a relative in an independent living residence, ask whether staff members are trained in CPR and the use of AEDs, whether AEDs are readily available, and whether the facility has policies that call for treating medical emergencies.
For more information about sudden cardiac arrest, visit www.sca-aware.org/about-sca.
Mary M. Newman, MS, President, Norman S. Abramson, MD, FACEP, FCCM, Chairman, Board of Directors, Andrew Roszak, JD, MPA, EMT-P, Member, Advisory Council, Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation