Why Learning CPR Can Help You Save a Life This Heart Month and Year-Round

The American Heart Association is challenging every household to have someone who knows CPR to ‘Be the Beat’ for their family, community.
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The 1977 Bee Gees’ tune “Stayin’ Alive” can literally help you save someone else’s life.

For American Heart Month in February, the American Heart Association is stressing the importance of learning cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR.

“Focusing on CPR is incredibly timely when so much of the nation witnessed (Buffalo Bills’) Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest on the football field,” says Leeanna McKibben, president of the American Heart Association Greater Pittsburgh Board of Directors. “We saw how crucial CPR was for Damar and his recovery. We also saw the wonderful outcome he had. Unfortunately, 350,000 Americans die of cardiac arrest each year, and about 90% of people who experience cardiac arrest outside of the hospital will die. This makes the importance of learning CPR incredibly poignant; we want to make sure people are aware of this bleak statistic.”

Cardiac arrest differs from a heart attack. McKibben says cardiac arrest occurs when an electrical malfunction in the heart causes an irregular heartbeat. When the pumping action is interrupted, the heart can’t pump blood to the brain and other vital organs. During a heart attack, the vascular network that supplies the blood to the heart is blocked or interfered with.

McKibben notes it is relatively easy for anyone to learn how to perform CPR. She adds the American Heart Association has online tools to make performing CPR less intimidating so they don’t hesitate in an emergency when every second counts. 

“Most folks envision mouth-to-mouth resuscitation when thinking of CPR,” explains McKibben. “However, mouth-to-mouth is not necessary to save someone’s life.”

She adds if someone around you experiences cardiac distress, they are advised to make sure the patient is safe, call 9-1-1 and ask someone to get an automated external defibrillator (AED) machine — which can shock the heart back to normal rhythm if the issue is cardiac arrest. An AED also was used to help restore Hamlin’s heartbeat in his rescue on the field.

Chest compressions for CPR at 100 to 120 beats per minute are the key to keeping the patient alive.

“Place one hand in the center of the chest above the breast bone and put the other hand on top. Start pushing fast and hard to a depth of about 2 inches. The beat to ‘Stayin’ Alive’ can keep you on pace. It can be very tiring, but the important thing is to keep pushing hard and fast, and not stopping those compressions.”

When is CPR necessary? When someone suddenly collapses or if someone is having trouble breathing, is unconscious, has been electrocuted, has experienced a near-drowning or is suffering a drug overdose or exposure to smoke or inhalants.

“Breathing and pulse are the two critical factors in determining if someone needs CPR or not. If a person isn’t breathing or doesn’t have a pulse, you need to perform CPR immediately. Make every second count because a lack of oxygen-rich blood can cause brain damage in only a few minutes. Call 911 and begin chest compressions and rescue breathing until the emergency services arrive,” an article on mycprcertificationonline.com reads.

The article adds that hands-only CPR (without rescue breathing) is recommended for untrained bystanders who witness someone suffering from cardiac stress outside of a hospital setting.

The American Heart Association provides in-person and virtual CPR and first aid training to teach basic CPR concepts and other emergency cardiovascular care.

McKibben says the best way to prevent cardiac arrest, heart attack and heart disease is by following the AHA’s Life’s Essential 8 — key measures for improving and maintaining cardiovascular health. 

They are: Eat better, be more active, quit tobacco, get healthy sleep, manage weight, control cholesterol, manage blood sugar and manage blood pressure. 

Heart disease and stroke are consistently the No. 1 and No. 2 killers across the globe, respectively.  

McKibben says 47% of all Americans have at least one of three key risk factors for heart disease – high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. While there are some risk factors out of our control, such as age and family history, we can still take steps to lower our risk by changing factors that we can control with the science-backed Life’s Essential 8.

“There are manageable steps to preventing cardiovascular stress,” she adds. “Know your numbers — know your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol and take steps to manage them. Always work in conjunction with your health care provider.” 


Take this AHA quiz to learn how much you know about heart-healthy habits.

Feb. 3 also marks National Wear Red Day to increase awareness that heart disease is the leading cause of death in women, claiming more lives than all cancers combined. More than 44% of women ages 20 and older in the U.S. are living with some form of cardiovascular disease, according to the AHA. 

“We often see that women just aren’t aware of the significance of this threat to them,” McKibben notes. “We are working diligently to raise awareness in women that it is the leading cause of death. We are very busy taking care of others and don’t take those moments to invest in our own health.”

The Go Red for Women campaign is designed to create that level of awareness. 

“This identifies simple strategies for women to take control of their health and gives them the ability to advocate for the women in their lives, especially women of color. We want everyone to paint Pittsburgh red on Friday for National Wear Red Day.” 

Categories: BeWell