The Case for CPR and Why Acting Quickly Matters

August 15, 2023

Recently, two major media outlets published stories about the potential harmful consequences of CPR. The authors of these stories question the default use of CPR in a cardiac emergency, pointing out that chest compressions can be futile and extremely painful. It is certainly true that, in clinical situations where the patient is not likely to improve with time and treatment, CPR may not be in their best interest. However, an important distinction must be made when evaluating CPR’s efficacy and value for elderly, terminally ill patients and those who are young and relatively healthy. For sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) that occurs outside of a hospital, which occurs about once every minute in the United States, CPR can and does save lives.

For every minute a SCA victim is left untreated, their survival rate decreases by 10 percent. CPR can buy critical extra time until an automated external defibrillator (AED) device can be applied by trained bystanders or emergency medical providers. We have recently witnessed multiple examples of this. Earlier this year, millions watched Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin go into cardiac arrest following a tackle. His life was saved by a team of medical professionals who immediately began CPR before using an AED device to restart his heart. This potential tragedy was a great example of the importance of early recognition of cardiac arrest and starting CPR. 

While sudden cardiac arrest is uncommon in young people, it sadly does happen. But, immediate CPR and the availability of an AED can double or triple a person’s chance of survival. Dr. Stu Berger, the Division Head of Cardiology at Lurie Children’s, is the National Medical Director of Project ADAM, a school-based sudden cardiac death prevention program active in over thirty states. “Framing CPR as being brutal and rarely effective is dangerous and simply untrue. Project ADAM has documented over 200 saves, with excellent outcomes among both adults and youth, in schools that have created CPR & AED programs,” shares Dr. Berger. In fact, one of those saves occurred just this past week after a 14-year old collapsed at school, received CPR within 40 seconds, and had an AED placed in under two minutes. “Studies show that survival from cardiac arrest in a school can be as high as 89%. Focusing on the downsides of CPR sends the wrong message – instead, we should focus on educating and empowering people with the skills to perform CPR safely and quickly,” says Dr. Berger.  

CPR is an easy-to-learn skill that requires no prior medical training. The American Heart Association (AHA) has short videos on their website, like this one, that demonstrate how and when to perform chest compressions.  For people who want to learn more, the AHA and American Red Cross offer courses on how to perform CPR and use an AED.

Project ADAM is another helpful resource for preventing sudden cardiac death. As an affiliate of Project ADAM, Lurie Children’s aims to increase survival from Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Illinois by helping schools achieve a Heart Safe Schools Designation, indicating that they have a cardiac response team and documented response plans in the case of an emergency. For more information about Project ADAM, educational resources and how to become a Heart Safe Site, visit projectadam.com or reach out to projectadam@luriechildrens.org