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Your Hands Can Keep a Cardiac Arrest Victim ‘Stayin’ Alive’

Sheri Dungan, BSN, RN, SANE-A, CEN News

Most of us would agree that cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, is a great skill to possess. Yet, for various reasons, only a handful of people are certified in the technique. But did you know that, in just a couple of minutes, you can learn a less-complicated but equally lifesaving technique called hands-only CPR?

Unlike conventional CPR—which combines chest compression with mouth-to-mouth breathing assistance—hands-only CPR involves just chest compression. Over the past decade, the American Heart Association and other leading health organizations have come to endorse hands-only CPR as an effective option for people who have not been trained in conventional CPR. In fact, the American Heart Association says that hands-only CPR is as effective as conventional CPR in the first few minutes of a cardiac arrest that happens outside of a hospital setting.

Hands-only CPR works because people who have just suffered cardiac arrest still have oxygen left in their lungs and bloodstream. Chest compression manually pumps the heart to move blood through the body, which keeps critical organs, such as the heart and the brain, supplied with life-giving oxygen until emergency medical assistance can arrive.

Studies have proven that starting CPR—either the conventional or the hands-only version—as soon as possible after the onset of a cardiac arrest can not only save a person’s life but can greatly improve his or her quality of life afterward. It all comes down to providing a steady supply of oxygen to the brain and heart, and both conventional CPR and hands-only CPR do that.

The American Heart Association recommends hands-only CPR for teens and adults who collapse in your presence. In contrast, conventional CPR is the better alternative for infants and pre-teen children; anyone you come upon who is already unresponsive and not breathing normally; and victims of drowning, drug overdose, collapse due to breathing problems or prolonged cardiac arrest. However, most medical experts—including the American Heart Association—agree that it is almost always better to perform hands-only CPR in any situation than to do nothing.

It is also important to note that CPR is for people who have suffered cardiac arrest; it is not for heart attack victims. Cardiac arrest is an electrical problem that stops the normal, rhythmic beating of the heart. Heart attack is a circulation problem caused by a blockage in an artery of the heart. Unlike most heart attack victims, people suffering from cardiac arrest will likely be unconscious and not breathing.

There are only two main steps to hands-only CPR:

  • Call 911, or if possible, ask someone else to make the call.
  • Push hard and fast in the center of the victim’s chest; do this nonstop until emergency assistance arrives. Chest compressions should be done at a rate of at least 100 beats per minute. As a reference, that’s the tempo of the disco song “Stayin’ Alive.”

While this is basically all you need to know to do hands-only CPR, it’s extremely helpful to take a little time to learn more about the technique. The American Heart Association has excellent online resources; go to

There are also often opportunities right in your community to learn hands-only CPR and—most important—to practice on a CPR mannequin. This practice is important because many people don’t realize how hard you have to push to pump the heart. Hands-only CPR instruction will be available at a few upcoming events in Simi Valley, including:

April 1 at Round-Up Simi
May 13 at the Simi Valley Street Fair
May 27-28 at the Simi Valley Cajun & Blues Music Festival

In addition, some area hospitals—including Simi Valley Hospital—are happy to send a hands-only CPR educator to your workplace, club or organization to provide in-person training with a CPR mannequin. Call your hospital for more information.

Ventura County has a goal that, by 2020, every person in the county will know hands-only CPR. This is a critically important endeavor that will, no doubt, save the lives—and improve the ongoing quality of life—for hundreds of people in our county every year. Make it your personal goal to learn this simple technique soon!

Sheri Dungan, BSN, RN, SANE-A, CEN, is the clinical information systems lead for the Emergency Department at Simi Valley Hospital.