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A series of local surveys illuminates important issues surrounding public perceptions and awareness related to sudden cardiac arrest and heart attacks.

Sudden cardiac arrest is a public health crisis. More than 356,000 cardiac arrests occur outside hospitals annually in the U.S., nearly 90 percent of them fatal. An anticipated 20 to 30 cases of sudden cardiac arrest will occur in Westerly this year.  Survival depends largely on immediate bystander intervention with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the use of automated external defibrillators (AEDs).

HEARTSafe Charlestown-Westerly, a group of local cardiac arrest advocates conducted a series of poll questions through Facebook, seeking to gain insight regarding local perceptions related to sudden cardiac arrest. While far from scientific, they reaffirmed the need for additional public education in the area.

Responses to several survey questions really stand out and provide a basis for enhanced efforts to educate members of the public:

Survey Question:  True or False — When calling 9-1-1 in Rhode Island, the emergency operators at the State 9-1-1 Center in North Scituate are trained and will provide you with instructions on how to perform CPR over the phone.

84 percent of those who participated in this poll believe that they will be provided with CPR instructions over the phone when calling 9-1-1 in Rhode Island.  9-1-1 and public safety telecommunicators are a vital member of any Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system, and they are a critical link in the cardiac arrest chain of survival. High performing communication centers who are able to provide a rapid assessment and quickly initiate Telephone CPR (T-CPR) instructions positively impact cardiac arrest survival. Regretfully this is not true in Rhode Island at this time. Until that time where we can restore 9-1-1 funding and reform practices, it will be up to bystanders to act without assistance from 9-1-1 telecommunicators.

Survey Question:  True or False — If not properly performed, CPR can harm a victim of cardiac arrest.

77 percent of those who participated in the poll believe that they can harm a person with less than perfect CPR.  The truth is, it is hard to hurt a dead person!    

Cardiac arrest is the ultimate state of ill-being, therefore ANY CPR is better than no CPR.  There are three main reasons someone may be hesitant to perform CPR include confusing signs such as gasping breathing and body posturing, lack of recent training, and overwhelming fear.

Adults who suddenly collapse and are not responsive and not breathing normally are likely experiencing sudden cardiac arrest. The chance of survival approaches zero unless someone takes immediate and decisive action. According to the American Heart Association, 90 percent of people who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests die. Performing Hands-Only CPR is an easy, effective way for any bystander to double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival simply by using their hands. Call 9-1-1 and start pushing hard and fast in the center of the chest, quickly, over 100 times a minute. If the person has collapsed for reasons other than cardiac arrest, Hands-Only CPR could still help by causing the person to respond (begin to move, breathe normally or speak). If that occurs, Hands-Only CPR can be stopped. Otherwise, chest compressions should continue until help arrives.   

The polls reaffirmed other opportunities to address knowledge gaps such as differentiating between heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest, as well as the use of AEDs. Early recognition and treatment by bystanders are powerful allies in saving hearts and brains that are too young to die.

The group plans to set a calendar of scheduled opportunities to learn Hands-Only CPR and Early Heart Attack Care.  Area businesses are encouraged to contact HEARTSafe directly to host an event.

David Hiltz is the Director of Quality for Code One Training Solutions and a HEARTSafe Advocate-Consultant living in Westerly. HEARTSafe Charlestown-Westerly is a voluntary group that focuses on community-wide interventions to effectively increase survival and improve outcomes from sudden cardiac arrest and other acute cardiovascular emergencies. It can be reached at

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