Thousands of your fellow citizens die every year of cardiac arrest because well-intentioned bystanders assume they lack the training to help. While we highly recommend that everyone receive CPR training, even the untrained can play a role. Remember, a patient whose heart has stopped is already dead—and a dead person cannot be harmed, even by untrained help.
When dealing with cardiac arrest, speed is more important than training. Each minute without intervention reduces the patient’s chance of survival by 10 percent. So should you see someone suddenly collapse, immediately check the pulse. If the person has no pulse, you can safely assume he or she has gone into cardiac arrest. Your next action is to call the emergency-response system and then seek an AED. Once assured that the device is on its way, you should administer chest compressions. Overlap your hands and place them palms-down at the center of the person’s chest and push hard at a rate of about two pushes per second. The subtleties of exactly how you compress the chest are not critical. And don’t waste time with mouth-to-mouth breathing, which used to be part of first-responder doctrine. Keep compressing the chest until someone brings an AED. Then the AED will clearly guide you in the process of resuscitation. If there is no AED, there is still a good chance that your well-delivered chest compressions will keep the victim’s brain alive until the ambulance arrives with a defibrillator.