Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States. Each year, almost half a million Americans die from a heart attack. Half of these will die suddenly, outside of the hospital, because their heart stops beating.
The most common cause of death from a heart attack in adults is a disturbance in the electrical rhythm of the heart called ventricular fibrillation.
Ventricular fibrillation can be treated, but it requires applying an electrical shock to the chest called defibrillation. If a defibrillator is not readily available, brain death will occur in less than 10 minutes.
One way of buying time until a defibrillator becomes available is to provide artificial breathing
and circulation by performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.
The earlier you give CPR to a person in cardiopulmonary arrest (no breathing, no heartbeat), the greater the chance of a successful resuscitation.
By performing CPR, you keep oxygenated blood flowing to the heart and brain until a defibrillator becomes available.
Since up to 80 percent of all cardiac arrests occur in the home, you are most likely to perform CPR on a family member or loved one.
CPR is one link in what the American Heart Association calls the "chain of survival." The chain of survival is a series of actions that, when performed in sequence, will give a person having a heart attack the greatest chance of survival.
When an emergency situation is recognized, the first link in the chain of survival is early access. This means activating the emergency medical services, or EMS, system by calling 9-1-1.
The next link in the chain of survival is to perform CPR until a defibrillator becomes available.
In some areas of the country, simple, computerized defibrillators, known as automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, may be available for use by the lay public or first person on the scene. If available, early defibrillation becomes the next link in the chain of survival.
Once the EMS unit arrives, the next link in the chain of survival is early advanced life support care. This involves administering medications, using special breathing devices, and providing additional defibrillation shocks if needed.
Never practice CPR on another person, because bodily damage can occur.
If you are interested in taking a CPR course, the Mogollon Health Alliance, in conjunction with the Payson Fire Department, will hold a CPR class from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 1107 S. Beeline, Ste 2. There is no cost to the public. To register or for more information, call (928) 472-2588.