If you’re a walking, talking, cognitively aware adult human being, I’m about to tell you something that is going to scare the crap out of you. Then, I’m going to make you feel better about it (and then I’m going to pontificate about it, feel free to ignore that part if you want).
Each year, heart attacks kill about 250,000 people, and the total death toll for all coronary failures is a whopping 432,000+. The U.S. population is somewhere around 300 million right now. On average just about 685 people right now, today, are going to complain of pain in one side, grab their chest, keel over, and die. That’s about one every two minutes.
Of course, there’s quite a few *more* people who are going to complete steps 1-3, but before they can get to the “die” part, something else happens. There are roughly 1,200,000 new heart attack incidents per year. Since there’s 300 million people in the U.S., that means about one in every 250 people is going to have a heart attack this year alone.
How many people do you know?
Statistically, this means that it’s not unlikely that over a 70-ish year lifespan, you’re going to be a direct witness to at least one fatal heart attack. Without immediate, effective CPR from a bystander, a person’s chance of surviving sudden cardiac arrest decreases 7 percent to 10 percent *per minute*. Do a little research on emergency response times for your local area, you might be dismayed at the results. 8-10 minutes is a pretty common “official” response, the practical response time between when someone calls 911 and when an EMT touches a patient is often much, much longer. 95% of the people who die from heart attacks die before they reach a hospital.
Not very cheery, is it?
Here’s the good news. If you know basic CPR, you can essentially double the chance that the person who keels over in front of you survives. If you have ready access to an AED and use it within three minutes of a cardiac arrest, the odds of survival skyrocket to nearly 70% – 90% if you get it done in the first 60 seconds.
Now, there’s a lot of additional information available. CCR (CPR with compressions only, no rescue breathing) is more effective for heart attack victims, but the American Heart Association still recommends the rescue breathing technique – probably because basic Adult CPR assumes that the average layperson can’t differentiate between a heart attack and any other medical cause that makes you keel over and your heart stop. AED use *after* the first 5 minutes may cause damage to the heart, but of course this doesn’t matter so much in the field because the brain starts to die about four to six minutes after the heart stops. Unless you’re a trained medical doctor in a full medical facility, getting the heart going as quickly as possible is the only thing that is going to keep your brain from dying.
But none of that matters more than knowing the basics. You want to be a hero? Take a CPR course. Odds are damn good that someday you’ll save someone’s life. If you work in a company that has over 200 employees, get your boss to buy an AED (they’re about $1,200) and train a dozen people how to use it (about $100 per person). $2,400 is chump change for a life… heck, if your boss is a middle-aged, slightly overweight guy who eats a lot of fast food, it could very well be his own life he’s saving.
Begin the pontification:
Hey, if we spent the TSA’s budget for the next year ($7,100,000,000) just on buying AEDs and training a dozen people how to use them, we could equip 2,958,333 ready response teams, and train 35,500,000 (over 10% of the population) how to use these devices (and give them ready access). Chicken scratch analysis (assuming standard distribution of heart attacks during a 24 hour period, or about 3/5 of them, would occur during non-sleeping hours when *someone* would witness the event) shows that we’d have about a 70% chance of saving the lives of about 150,000 of those cardiac incidents. That’s 105,000 people. We could cut the death rate from heart attacks down to 145,000-ish.
105,000 people. Thirty-five times the number of people who died on 9/11. Every year. Heck, this is a horribly basic analysis, let’s say I’m off by an order of magnitude. That’s still 10,500 people a year.