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Last July, when I was pulling into a store parking lot, I wasn't thinking about how cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) might save someone's life. I was just thinking about getting a few bottles of water.
But sometimes things go in a different direction and you can be called upon to do something far more important.
Ten years ago, the American Heart Association, in coalition with the American Red Cross and the National Safety Council, worked to have Congress designate the first seven days of June as National CPR and AED Awareness Week. The primary intent of the week is to help increase bystander response rates in cardiac emergencies, because CPR, performed in the first few minutes of cardiac arrest, can double or triple a person's chance of survival.
It was during the first few minutes of a man's cardiac event that I pulled into that Delaware convenience store 11 months ago. I saw two men pulling a third man out of the driver's seat of a truck. My first thought was that I was witnessing a robbery, but the two men looked like they were panicking, so I walked over and saw a man in his 30s, unconscious and not breathing, lying on the pavement.
I asked the pair a few questions – has he eaten or drank anything recently? Did they know how long he's been unconscious?
And then I saw that the man was turning blue. That's when I began chest compressions as one of the other men called 911.
I continued the compressions for between three and five minutes, until the paramedics arrived, by which time the man's color started to return and his eyes began moving. He regained consciousness, I was told, later in the ambulance.
As a construction foreman, I had undergone CPR and first aid training on a regular basis for the last 16 years, and during some of the first few sessions I recall wondering whether I would ever use the skills I was being taught. In the last several years, it was more of a refresher, just reminding me of what I already knew and sometimes updating me on minor changes in the procedures.
But then, in that parking lot, all of that training came back to me. And to one person, that training was literally a matter of life and death.
I don't know how things worked out for the man after he rolled off in the ambulance, and I never knew exactly what happened to cause his heart to stop beating. But I do know that I feel a little bit better, a little bit safer, knowing that the people I work with have been trained the same way I have been; if something ever happens to me, they would know what to do.
You can make the people around you feel that same kind of safe by taking the time to get trained in first aid, CPR and automatic external defibrillators. Training is a resource that you can carry around with you everywhere you go. You might never be forced to use it, but if that moment comes, as it did with me last summer, you'll be prepared to make a huge difference in someone's life.