For a couple of hours this week, Jeff Sun of Cary was happy to serve as a sideshow attraction at the N.C. State Fair, appearing as the man who died of a heart attack and was brought back to life by CPR.
Sun wasn’t in a tent on the midway, but in a booth in a corner of the Education Building, where a rotating group of about 140 volunteers is teaching life-saving CPR in as little as two minutes per student through the run of the fair.
“Check. Call. Compress,” said Dr. James Jollis, a cardiologist with N.C. Heart and Vascular, a cardiology practice that sponsored the booth along with UNC REX Healthcare.
Those are the three steps of what is now promoted as “bystander CPR,” the simple but highly effective hands-only procedure nearly anyone can perform to increase the likelihood that a heart attack victim will survive.
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CHECK to see if the collapsed person is breathing. Involuntary gasping does not count as breathing.
COMPRESS the collapsed person’s chest at the rate of 90 thrusts per minute continuously until help arrives. Each compression should go about two inches deep. The Bee Gees song “Staying Alive” is the perfect rhythm.
This version of cardiopulmonary resuscitation doesn’t involve mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing – something many bystanders might be squeamish about doing. But it can keep a heart attack victim alive until help arrives and prevent or reduce the brain injury that occurs when breathing is stopped, Jollis said.
Sun, one of Jollis’ patients, had no idea he had any heart issues until about five weeks ago. On Sept. 13, he was in the gym on the SAS campus in Cary, where he works as a programmer. It was one of the Sundays each month when the company opens the gym to employees, and Sun was playing mens’ doubles badminton.
“I felt fine,” he said. “Everything was fine,” until he collapsed to the floor.
Someone ran upstairs and located Jennifer Strobel, the recreation and fitness center program coordinator for SAS in Cary. She made sure someone called 911, then grabbed the AED – automated external defibrillator – and ran downstairs. Though she had trained repeatedly on the device over the years, and is certified in CPR, Strobel had never had to use either one in an emergency.
She reached Sun in less than two minutes of his collapse, she says. She opened the defibrillator box, pulled out the electrode pads and fixed them to Sun’s chest, turned on the machine and let it read Sun’s electrical activity. When the machine’s vocal instructions said to shock, “I shocked,” she said.
As it instructed, she then began chest compressions. When the AED told her to shock again, she did, and then resumed compressions. Within a few minutes, she said, an emergency medical team arrived and took over, later delivering Sun to Rex hospital.
The 53-year-old is feeling fine again now, he said.
Almost any bystander could operate a portable defibrillator if he or she has access to one, health officials say, and people shouldn’t be afraid to try. About 8,000 people suffer heart attacks outside of hospitals each year in North Carolina, according to the state chapter of the American College of Cardiology, and fewer than half of them receive CPR. More than 93 percent die.
“A person who has collapsed and is not breathing is as critically sick as they can be without being dead,” Jollis said. “You’re not going to hurt them by shocking them.”
The same is true for hands-only CPR, Jollis said. People fear that they will break a rib by doing CPR. And they might.
“But you might save the person’s life,” Jollis said.