On June 8, 45-year-old physician and avid cyclist Vikram Verma suffered a 100 percent blockage of his LAD, the left anterior descending aorta.

The so-called "widowmaker" heart attack.

Since a total blockage often immediately causes the heart to stop beating, the resulting fall left Vikram lying unconscious on the pavement with a broken collarbone and several broken ribs.

Several people saw him crash and stopped to help, but since Vikram was unresponsive and lying awkwardly they were concerned about a back or neck injury and hesitant to move him. So they called 911 (and his wife, by using the emergency contact feature on his phone) but otherwise weren't trying to assist him.

Until Larry Detris, a retired firefighter passing by, stepped in. He immediately saw that Vikram had no pulse and his breathing was labored and gasping, an indication of agonal breathing. In simple terms, agonal breathing really isn't breathing at all; agonal respirations are basically just air leaving your body. (Agonal breathing can last for as long as two to three minutes after your heart stops.)

Detris started CPR while Wendy Robb, a Cedar Crest College School of Nursing dean and professor who also happened to be passing by, removed Vikram's helmet and held his head in a position to keep his airway open. Kelsey Miller, a nurse at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest who also happened to be passing by, monitored Vikram's femoral artery for a pulse.

Then EMT Anthony Levan, who decided to hurry straight to the scene when the call came in instead of first going to the station, used a responding police officer's portable defibrillator (AED) to shock Vikram's heart.

And then Vikram's wife Deepti, also a physician, arrived and started rescue breathing. 

Let's do the math: Before the ambulance arrived, Vikram was assisted by a retired firefighter, two nurses, an EMT, and a physician. 

Four stents later, he's on the road to recovery. And already riding a bike again.

"People use the word miracle," Vikram says. "They use the word blessed, all kinds of things. I just think it was the right people at the right time."

And proof that, in spite of what we often hear or read...people do care. They do jump in to help strangers.

But it also helps when they know what to do.

That's where you come in.

How Can You Save Someone's Life When Their Heart Stops?

A heart attack is bad enough. Cardiac arrest is worse. Approximately 90 percent of people die if they are not in a hospital when they experience cardiac arrest. 

But CPR, especially if administered as soon as possible, dramatically improves the survival rate: Nearly 50 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest survive if someone performs CPR.

You read that correctly: While nine out of 10 times people die if they're not in a hospital when their heart stops, their odds of surviving cardiac arrest are 50/50 if someone performs CPR.

That's the good news, but here's the bad news: Only 45 percent of the people whose hearts stop actually receive CPR.

Sometimes that's because no one is around. But often it's because the people nearby don't know what to do. Or are afraid to do something.

So let's fix that.

Imagine a co-worker suddenly becomes unconscious. You try to rouse them. It doesn't work. Maybe you hear agonal breathing. (Trust me: You'll know it when you hear it.)

What should you do?

1. Make sure breathing is possible (whether or not he or she is breathing or not).

Maybe he's slumped forward in a chair. Or lying awkwardly on the floor. Take a second to make sure he's lying in a way that allows air to flow easily. 

Better yet, get a jump on a later step and turn him on his back and make sure his neck is straight. 

This step should take seconds at most. Remember, time is critical.

2. Call 911.

The quicker medical help arrives, the better the chances of survival. Plus, the dispatcher can talk you through what to do. Especially if you don't know CPR.

3. Start CPR.

I know what you're thinking: "I don't know how."

That's no excuse. Learning the basics of CPR is easy. You don't have to provide rescue breathing. You just need to place your hands in the right place, push hard, and follow the beat of the song "Staying Alive." 

(It's a cheesy video, but still. You'll get the point.)

Better yet, bring in a professional to teach all of your employees how to perform CPR. While you're at it, you can also get AED certified so you'll know how to use a portable defibrillator.

And don't worry about the breathing thing: While the best way to perform CPR is to combine chest compressions with rescue breathing, at least one study shows that people who received rescue breathing experience incrementally better outcomes...but more importantly, that any form of CPR doubles the chances of survival over no CPR at all.

Even if you're not doing it perfectly.

Because you don't need to be a retired firefighter, or nurse, or EMT, or physician to save someone's life. You just need to know enough--and be willing enough--to step in and do something

Because doing something, at least where cardiac arrest is concerned, is always better than doing nothing.

And because the last thing you want to later think is, "I wish I could have helped...if only I had known what to do."

Especially when knowing what to do is easy.

Published on: Aug 14, 2019
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