Teach CPR to spouses, neighbours of likely heart attack victims: expert: Chance of survival increases four-fold with immediate action, conference hears

September 22, 2005

By Joel Kom
The Ottawa Citizen

People who live or work with elderly people need to be targeted for CPR training, an Ottawa emergency medicine researcher told a gathering of paramedics last weekend.

Dr. Ian Stiell, head of the department of emergency medicine at the University of Ottawa, said the CPR training being done today isn't getting to the people who can make the most difference.

It's one thing to train high school students, he said, but it makes even more sense to train the spouse or neighbour of an elderly person, someone who could very well be nearby if and when the elderly person suffers a heart attack.

"We're training their grandchildren, but they're not around (when an attack happens)," Dr. Stiell said in an interview after speaking to about 300 people in town for an annual paramedics conference.

Dr. Stiell's speech centered on his landmark study on the effects of advanced-care paramedics in Ontario. The results, which have been published in several medical journals, covered 20 Ontario cities from 1994 to 2004.

The families of those who survive a heart attack or have a history of heart problems should also take CPR training, Dr. Stiell added, particularly since 85 per cent of the heart attacks charted in his study happened at home.

While it may seem obvious that having a bystander give CPR can save someone's life -- the chances of survival are almost four times better, the study found -- the amount of people who actually know CPR in Ontario is "pathetic," he said.

Only about 15 per cent of people in the study and nationwide knew CPR.

Perhaps more alarming, he added, was that the percentage didn't change over the decade his study was done.

"You could have heart specialists show up (to treat a heart attack) and it won't do anything if CPR wasn't done," he said.

Mike Cross, a paramedic for 24 years and an executive member of the Professional Paramedic Association of Ottawa, said there's no reason not to take the maximum of eight hours training needed to learn CPR.

"The stakes are that you can save the life of a loved one, and I can't think of a better motive than that," said Mr. Cross, who estimated only about five of the hundreds of cardiac patients he's treated had CPR done by a bystander.

Note: Reproduced with permission from the Ottawa Citizen.