Prairie Doc Perspective: Be a hero; learn CPR

Kelly Evans-Hullinger, M.D.
The Prairie Doc
Kelly Evans-Hullinger, M.D.

We are familiar with the scene on television and movies: a person clutches their chest and drops to the ground, unconscious. Another character starts chest compressions and help is summoned. Although cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, is often not accurately portrayed in such productions, it serves as a good reminder to all that CPR can save a life.

Cardiac arrest is a general term to describe any situation in which the heart stops pumping blood to other organs in the body, most urgently the brain. Cardiac arrest can have many causes, including a massive heart attack or a deadly heart arrhythmia. Regardless of the cause, the most pressing need of any person after cardiac arrest is, in short, restoring the circulation of oxygen to the brain and other critical organs.

The American Heart Association estimates that over 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside a hospital in the U.S. each year. These events might happen at home or in a public location. If that person is lucky enough to have a bystander educated in CPR present at the time of the cardiac arrest, their odds of surviving that event are hugely improved.

The most basic and important component of CPR is effective chest compressions. CPR can also include defibrillation, or shocking an electrically malfunctioning heart to restore a normal rhythm. Many public places now keep an automated external defibrillator, or AED, on hand. A CPR class will teach participants to perform effective CPR and how to use a defibrillator.

What can you do? If you have never done so, or if it has been a few years (as all things, the science of CPR has changed and improved), I would encourage you to find a CPR class in your community. If you own or manage a business, consider getting an AED and keep it in a visible location. I hope you will never have to use these skills, but you could be the reason a family member or complete stranger survives an otherwise-fatal event.

Cardiac arrest is a common cause of death, but bystander CPR can be life-saving. If you are able, consider learning this heroic skill. For information on where to find a CPR class, check at or with your local hospital.

Kelly Evans-Hullinger, M.D. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices internal medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at and on Facebook.