How CPR saves lives

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Knowing CPR can save someone’s life. The 4th to 10th November is National CPR Week, so we asked our expert to explain what CPR is, who can do and why it is so important that anyone (especially those in any caregiving role such as a parent or nanny) should take a course and keep their skills updated.

Q. Why would a person need to receive CPR? 

The person’s heart has arrested and therefore their brain is not receiving oxygen. The task of performing CPR ejects blood out of the heart and to the brain, circulating through the lungs to pick up oxygen on the way, just as it always does. But now it’s done manually because the heart can’t do its job. If the rescuer is pushing the chest hard enough in the correct place, the brain will be effectively oxygenated.

Q. How is the real thing different from what we see on TV?

CPR is not like you see in the movies, where the person wakes up after 30 seconds of CPR. This does NOT HAPPEN! You will see no response from the person until advanced care gets there and they can actually shock the heart or administer life-saving drugs to get the heart going again. The point is, the most important job being done right now is by you, i.e. CPR, which keeps the brain alive and healthy and prevents brain damage. That’s a pretty amazing job, I believe!

Nurse showing mother how to perform CPR
Image: Supplied

Q. What kind of training do you need to be able to perform CPR? 

You need to have done a CPR course. It is best to do a course endorsed by Resuscitation Council of South Africa and American Heart Association, as these comply with world-class medical standards and are run by accredited instructors. Our instructors are also highly medically trained professionals (ICU and trauma sisters) 

Q. Can anyone perform CPR? 

Absolutely! We even teach children from as early as the age of nine or 10 years how to do CPR and how to help someone that is choking. If they are not strong enough to perform it on an adult, they can instead show an adult how to help. 

Q. How long is a basic course? 

A basic course is three hours.

Q. Is a basic course enough for home care, teachers and sports coaches?

Yes, but it’s also good to cover other first aid topics like temperatures and febrile convulsions, allergies and allergic reactions and home safety which we cover in our courses.

Q. How much does a course cost on average? 

Our basic three-hour course costs R550 per person and we charge R650 per person for the six-hour, more detailed course. Discounts apply for bigger groups.

Q. How often should you have a refresher course?

You should do a refresher course every two years not only to refresh your memory and skills, but because the qualifications expire after two years.

“Never put a child in the car and transport to hospital, as you cannot do CPR while driving and the brain must receive oxygen. Stay where you are to perform effective CPR.”

Q. What should you do first: call for paramedics or start CPR?

  • If it’s a baby or child and you are on your own, start CPR for five cycles of 30 compressions and two breaths. Then phone for help but put your phone on speaker and continue administering CPR. The operator will help you while you’re performing CPR. Never put a child in the car and transport to hospital, as you cannot do CPR while driving and the brain must receive oxygen. Stay where you are to perform effective CPR.
  • If the person is an adult and you are alone, phone for help first as an adult is more likely to need to be defibrillated using a heart-shock machine, so you need to get paramedics there as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the less “shockable” the heart rhythm becomes.

Q. How does CPR differ for babies and children compared to adults?

It used to be very different but with research, it has become very much the same. The only difference is whether you use fingers, one or two hands and the pressure of the compression needs to be adjusted according to the size of the baby/child, as well as the size and strength of the rescuer. The ratio of compressions to breaths are the same 30 compressions to two breaths.

Q. Can you do it incorrectly and cause permanent damage? 

If a large adult used their full strength on a baby or child’s chest, they could do some serious damage, but if you have done a course you will be taught how much pressure to exert. Luckily, the bones of babies and children are soft and flexible and don’t easily break. Also, let’s remember that this person is “clinically dead” – don’t worry about hurting them as they can’t feel anything. 

They are not yet brain dead, so it is important to do whatever it takes to perform CPR and get oxygen to the brain. Ribs are often broken when CPR is performed on an adult but those can heal and generally won’t cause any damage to the patient. Remember, if you don’t do CPR the person will die.

Q. Can I be sued if I perform it on someone (e.g. at the scene of an accident) and something goes wrong? 

Again, the person is already “clinically dead”, so your attempts can only save the person. There is also a Good Samaritans law that protects lay rescuers.