Posted by: Francis Koster Published: August 7, 2014

Heart-Stopping Facts Your Mother Wishes You Knew

Heart-Stopping Facts Your Mother Wishes You Knew

Copyright Francis P. Koster, Ed.D.

Readers of my column know that I usually talk about solving national problems by local action. Today I will reverse that – we have a problem with too many local solutions and we need a national one. The reasons for that will break your heart.

Every year, heart disease causes one in every four deaths in America.[i] 720,000 Americans have a heart attack annually.[ii] Half of these heart attacks occur at home, at church, the movies, or supermarket, often in the company of loved ones who don’t know a simple life saving technique called CPR.[iii]

If given quickly, CPR can double or triple a person’s chance of survival. CPR is only given to about a third of the heart attack victims outside a healthcare facility.   This lack of CPR contributes to the fact that less than one in twelve helpless loved ones survives. [iv]

Ignorance about how to do CPR, or lack of willingness to help, kills – your loved ones.

The odds of woman dying from heart attack are much greater than is commonly believed. Heart disease is the leading cause of death of American women, causing a third of all deaths – an annual death rate five times greater than breast cancer.[v]

Lowering the death rate from a heart attack in progress is pretty simple.   The heart attack does not kill you. When the heart stops, the lack of fresh blood being pumped to the brain that does that.   Permanent brain damage begins around four minutes once the heart stops pumping.[vi]   If immediate 2 inch pumping on the chest at a rate of more than 100 times a minute [vii]is taken in those four minutes, anguished phone calls can be avoided.

From the time 911 is called until a trained emergency personnel begin treatment (not arrive on the scene) is usually more than 8 minutes. [viii] If it takes 8 minutes from receipt of the phone call for the first responders to begin treatment, and the brain begins to die in 4 minutes, by-standers and loved ones must act, even if it means pumping on an unknown female’s chest.  

There are three opportunities to save more of our loved ones.   The first is training people how to pump the chest while someone else calls for help.   The second is to have a national ethic that when someone’s life is in danger, you act.   And the third is to remove a major cause of fear which blocks action.

Turns out that sometimes people who know how to do CPR and see a stranger having a heart attack do not pitch in because of the fear of being sued. Such lawsuits are quite rare (and losing them even rarer), but the fear of them is common.[ix] Texas even has a law that says you cannot be forced to help another person if you don’t want to, even at no risk to yourself![x]

In efforts to remove the fear of a lawsuit, thousands of states, cities and towns have passed a hodgepodge of what are called “good Samaritan laws” which protect the volunteer who steps up to help.    A few states have “failure-to-act” laws that require all citizens to assist a victim in need as long as they don’t endanger their own lives, and protects them from lawsuit when they do. [xi]

Numerous studies have shown that the average adult reads around 200 words per minute. [xii] You just read almost 800 words – four minutes will have passed since the headline caught your eye. And if someone you loved had fallen over when you started reading this article, unless you or someone else acted in a trained manner, your loved one would be either approaching death, or be dead.

So let’s act together for the common good, and the good of our loved ones. Get trained in CPR – it takes about two hours.  While you are waiting for that class, at least watch this 2 minute video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5hP4DIBCEE&list=PL7A68846B17049716 it is fun and more educational than you might think at first. And let’s remove all the fear and confusion out there about being sued by passing one national standard “Good Samaritan” law passed that encourages everyone to take action if needed.  

This may fly in the face of current political trends toward reducing federal influence at the local level, but I am willing to bet that this resistance would melt if it was the politician’s mother on the floor.


[i]Murphy SL, Xu JQ, Kochanek KD. Deaths: Final data for 2010. Natl Vital Stat Rep. 2013;61(4). http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_04.pdf[PDF-3M]

[ii] http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

[iii]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State Specific Mortality from Sudden Cardiac Death: United States, 1999. MMWR. 2002;51(6):123–126

[iv] http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/CPRAndECC/WhatisCPR/CPRFactsandStats/CPR-Statistics_UCM_307542_Article.jsp

[v]https://www.cardiosmart.org/Heart-Basics/CVD-Stats

[vi] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000013.htm

[vii] http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@ecc/documents/downloadable/ucm_441302.pdf

[viii] http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=9&ved=0CHwQFjAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dshs.state.tx.us%2Fwellness%2FPDF%2Fburdenreport08.pdf&ei=02nQU8OQE8-ryATci4DADw&usg=AFQjCNFilKR_fdnxRpZqiqNjkhnQXyur6A&sig2=Ca45e4_vmuWX0637FecbbQ&bvm=bv.71667212,d.aWw

[ix] http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/explainer/2013/03/bakersfield_cpr_denial_can_you_be_sued_for_performing_cpr.html

[x] http://theemtspot.com/2009/06/23/what-is-the-duty-to-act/

[xi] http://theemtspot.com/2009/06/23/what-is-the-duty-to-act/

[xii]Ziefle, M. (1998), Effects of display resolution on visual performance, Human Factors, 40(4), 555–568.


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