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home : healthy living : healthy living August 29, 2014

9/19/2013 5:06:00 PM
GUEST COLUMN | Hands-Only CPR: Two steps to saving a life
The American Heart Association recommends Hands-Only CPR, which involves pushing on the chest more than 100 beats per minute to provide sufficient blood flow.

The American Heart Association recommends Hands-Only CPR, which involves pushing on the chest more than 100 beats per minute to provide sufficient blood flow.

By Dr. Joshua Buckler, M.D.

The Bee Gees just might save your life someday. Just ask my 41-year-old patient who collapsed in front of her family. “Stayin’ Alive,” the 1977 Billboard hit, rests at the core of the most recent American Heart Association recommendations for CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), but more on this later.

Easy to do, save lives

Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, and many patients collapse without warning. Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart unexpectedly malfunctions and stops beating, an event triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). With its pumping action disrupted, the heart cannot pump blood to the brain, lungs and other organs.

Cardiac arrest can be reversible in some victims if it’s treated within a few minutes. CPR is proven to help save lives when given properly and immediately. The use of CPR dates all the way back to 1740; yet, even today, most Americans don’t know how to perform it. Only 41 percent of people who experience a cardiac arrest at home, at work or in public get the immediate help they need before emergency medical services arrive. 

In King County, we are fortunate to have one of the best survival rates in the world from sudden cardiac arrest. In 1972, Seattle became the site of the world’s first mass citizen training in CPR, known as Medic 2. Organized by Dr. Leonard Cobb in 1972, it trained 100,000 people during its first two years. But even here where we have a long history of CPR training, survival is still just at 55 percent. 

This is where you come in. The American Heart Association has introduced the simplest CPR ever to help you become a lifesaver. A significant hesitation for many people when performing CPR is mouth-to-mouth breathing, particularly when strangers are involved. As it turns out, continuous chest compressions, if rapid enough and forceful enough, can provide enough blood flow to vital organs to dramatically increase survival while waiting for emergency personnel. Thus, the American Heart Association began recommending Hands-Only CPR, which is good news for the average person. 

Hands-Only CPR involves only two simple steps. When you see a teen or adult suddenly collapse: 

•Call 9-1-1; and

•Push hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of the disco song “Stayin’ Alive” until help arrives.

No need to check a pulse; no need to give breaths. That’s Hands-Only CPR. 

In addition to being equally effective as conventional CPR, Hands-Only CPR is easy to remember. It is a good option for people who have been trained in conventional CPR but are not confident that they can remember its steps. 

When interviewed, bystanders also say that panic is a major obstacle to performing CPR. The simpler Hands-Only technique may help overcome panic and the hesitation to act. 

One caveat: Conventional CPR with compressions and breaths is still recommended by the American Heart Association for infants and children; victims of drowning and drug overdose; and people who collapse due to breathing problems.

So why “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees? It turns out that the fast-paced song has more than 100 beats per minute, which is the rate you should push on the chest during CPR to provide sufficient blood flow. People feel more confident performing Hands-Only CPR and are more likely to remember the correct rhythm when trained to the disco beat of “Stayin’ Alive. 

Saving precious time

Every second is precious during sudden cardiac arrest. Survival rates drop by as much as 10 percent for every minute that goes by without intervention and even further with interruptions in CPR. So start CPR quickly, compress rapidly and don’t stop until help arrives. 

Quick action on the part of her family with Hands-Only CPR is exactly what saved the life of the 41-year-old woman I mentioned at the beginning. This could have been any of us. Will you be ready to save the life of your loved one if needed?

You can watch a quick demo of Hands-Only CPR on the American Heart Association’s website ( or contact your local fire department or the American Heart Association to sign up for a class. 

The American Heart Association even has a DVD kit called “CPR Anytime” that comes with a mannequin, allowing you to learn CPR with your family at home. To find out more, visit or call the American Heart Association at 1-877-AHA-4CPR. 

JOSHUA BUCKLER, MD, FACC, is a cardiologist at Pacific Medical Centers and the President of the Board of the American Heart Association—Puget Sound. To comment on this story, write to

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