It is a scenario you hope will never happen: at dinner one night, your father goes into cardiac arrest.
His heart muscle stops contracting properly and blood stops flowing. His brain and organs do not get enough oxygen, and he falls to the ground unconscious.
In a panic, you call 911 and desperately try to remember the CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) course you did in high school 20 years ago.
Starting CPR is crucial. When the blood stops pumping, seconds count. Every minute that he does not receive CPR, his chance of surviving significantly decreases.
And that is why fire inspector Dan Kauffman and medical director Karen Wanger from Whistler Fire Rescue Services have teamed up to increase local awareness about how important the emergency procedure is.
“A lot of times, we’ll arrive on scene and no one is doing bystander CPR,” said Kauffman.
“Bystander CPR is important to do because it primes a person’s heart for us to be able to do defibrillation,” he said, referring to a commonly used technique of shocking the heart and get its activity back to normal.
According to Kauffman, about a dozen cases of cardiac arrest happen every year in Whistler. He said in a number of cases emergency responders have been able to get to the scene fast enough to shock the heart. But it’s been rare that bystanders were doing CPR and most of the patients did not survive.
“Recently though we had a case where bystander CPR was performed, and the person survived cardiac arrest,” said Kauffman.
Kauffman said there is an inevitable lag time between when the Whistler Fire Rescue Services are notified and the time they arrive on scene. And that is why it is so important that community members know CPR, to keep the person’s brain and other organs oxygenated.
“The time of our response depends where you are in Whistler. It could take eight minutes to West Side Road or only two if you are in a hotel in the village,” said Kauffman.
Wanger added that there is a new technique for CPR being promoted that has proven to increase survival rates.
CPR experts are now advocating that people do the emergency procedure faster and harder, with chest compression rates approaching 100 a minute.
The new technique was made official in 2005 by ILCORE (International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation), the international body that monitors CPR.
According to Wanger, the technique has increased the number of people surviving cardiac arrest by 20 per cent. This translates to 30 additional lives saved per year in B.C.
“This is one of those times in my career that is very exciting,” said Wanger.
“There is an extraordinary improvement in how we are able to treat people,” she said.
Emergency responders in Whistler started using the new technique in 2006, and now Kauffman and Wanger are hoping the community will be able to adopt the it as well.
“It really makes a difference in the community. We are really excited about the new CPR, it makes a difference to our day-to-day lives and it makes a difference clinically,” said Kauffman.
Wanger said that 80 per cent of cardiac arrests happen at home, so it is much more likely you will perform CPR on a family member than a stranger.
She added that if you witness a collapse and do not know CPR, a dispatcher at 911 will coach you through the steps.
“And if you don’t want to do mouth to mouth, even doing compressions helps,” Wanger said.
To learn more about CPR or sign up for a course, go to the Canadian Red Cross website or the St. John Ambulance website.