CPR, AED instruction saves critical minutes, which saves lives

CPR basics

Dan Burkhart

Kristi Conroy demonstrates to staff at Intermountain Equestrian Center how to position hands when administering CPR.

In an age of acronyms there are a couple that really are lifesavers. CPR for one, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation. And AED for another, or automated external defibrillator. Together they save thousands of lives each year. They could save more if more people had them where they could be used and if more people knew when and how to use them. 

That’s why Kristi Conroy, with St. Vincent Healthcare, visited Horses Spirits Healing Inc. recently to instruct Intermountain Equestrian Center staff on CPR and AED use. Conroy is project director for a federal grant awarded to St. Vincent Healthcare by the Health Resources and Services Administration Office of Rural Health Policy.

Time is of the essence, of course. For each minute defibrillation is delayed, the chance of survival is reduced approximately 10 percent. The average response time for first responders once 911 is called is eight to 12 minutes, so an ordinary person with CPR and AED training serves a crucial bridge for a victim.

“Sudden cardiac arrest kills 350,000 to 400,000 people each year,” Conroy told IE staff who work with the equine therapy program for veterans. “It can hit anyone, anytime, anywhere. But many of those could survive if they could have CPR started immediately and be kept alive until emergency personnel arrive. We hope to increase the rate of survival from Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) by increasing rates of bystander CPR through direct involvement of the community.”

Supplying Horses Spirits Healing Inc. with CPR training and an AED could mean saving the life or lives of clients and staff, if a cardiac arrest event occurs.

Conroy brought a bag full of manikins (basically a head and chest simulator), clear and concise instructions, an AED and a sense of rhythm. The simulators let each person do hands-on cardiopulmonary resuscitation so they get as close-to-live feel of chest compression as possible.

After explaining the basic theory of CPR—when to administer it—Conroy got down to the real work, demonstrating the proper position hands need to be on the chest—one atop the other—and explaining how often compressions need to be administered—about 100 a minute. This is where she imparted the rhythm, clapping a beat to cue compressions. Think either of two songs: “Stayin’ Alive” or, ironically, “Another One Bites the Dust” (“but don’t sing this one out loud,” she joked).

The songs make it easier, but actually doing the compressions is hard work, which is why, if more than one person knows CPR, it’s a good idea to switch after about two minutes.  The quality of the compression declines after two minutes because performing CPR is exhausting.

CPR will not jumpstart the heart, but it will keep blood flowing to the organs and most importantly, the brain. The objective is to keep the oxygenated blood circulating through the body to keep the organs alive and give the victim a higher chance of surviving a SCA.  Administration of an electric shock to the victim’s heart, termed defibrillation, is usually needed in order to restore a viable or “perfusing” heart rhythm. That’s where the AED comes in.

Given the distance from Billings to Intermountain Equestrian Center, located on Montana 3 west of the Billings International Airport, the time someone could employ CPR or deploy the AED might be the advantage a victim needs until help arrives.

“We have many Vietnam-era vets in our equine therapy program who might be susceptible to a heart attack, and we want to be able to render emergency assistance,” Horses Spirits Healing Inc. President Paul Gatzemeier said. “But this could happen to people of any age, so it’s useful for all our clients, whether students from Rocky Mountain College—Intermountain Equestrian Center is home to the College equestrian program—or private clients who board horses here.”

Thanks to St. Vincent Healthcare, which donates AEDs to many area organizations and the training it provides from staff like Conroy, clients of Horses Spirits Healing Inc. and Intermountain Equestrian Center may feel safer.

“We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for what they’re doing in the community to make us safer,” Gatzemeier said of St. Vincent Healthcare.

Kristi Conroy keeps the rhythm for chest compressions by clapping to the beat of "Stayin’ Alive" as Intermountain Equestrian Center staff simulate CPR on manikins.

Dan Burkhart

Kristi Conroy keeps the rhythm for chest compressions by clapping to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive” as Intermountain Equestrian Center staff simulate CPR on manikins.

Nearly 200 AEDs have been placed in rural communities through St. Vincent Healthcare’s rural AED grant program.  The program provides AEDs to rural and frontier areas, trains on their use and offers hands only CPR trainings as well as CPR certification.

St. Vincent Healthcare is awarding AEDs and teaching hands-only-CPR in the hopes of empowering bystanders to step into action when a person is suffering sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). For every minute that chest compressions are delayed, that person’s chance of surviving decreases 10 percent to 15 percent. When chest compressions are started quickly, the survivability rate increases.  When an AED is deployed in addition to chest compressions, that survivability rate jumps even higher.  For rural and frontier communities, having bystander intervention is crucial to a person suffering a SCA to survive.

“In some areas of our state, EMS could be as much as 45 minutes away.  That’s a very long time in a crisis situation where time is so precious. If we can get a community to learn hands only CPR, then there can be multiple people performing chest compressions while waiting for medical personnel to arrive,” said Conroy.

If someone is interested in learning hands only CPR, call Kristi Conroy at 238-6215 or email her at Kristi.conroy@sclhs.net.  The class is free, takes about 40 minutes and will empower you with the knowledge of knowing what to do in a critical situation.

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