Sudden cardiac arrest is a scary thing, and not just for the person experiencing it.
Imagine that someone collapses in front of you. They are desperately gasping for air or not breathing and their heart has stopped beating. Most people who witness a cardiac arrest feel helpless because they don’t know what to do. FIU medical students are trying to change that, and hopefully save lives, with two easy steps and a disco song.
They call it the Texas Two Step CPR. This two step is not a dance move, but as the name implies, it does involve two steps:
Step No. 1: Call 911.
Step No. 2: Push hard and fast on the center of the chest until help arrives.
The second step is known as hands-only CPR because it does not include mouth-to-mouth breathing, just chest compressions.
“If we can just get someone to press on the chest, 100-120 times a minute and get some blood flowing, then you’ve just increased the likelihood the cardiac arrest victim is going to live,” says Dr. Robert Levine, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine (HWCOM).
Cardiac arrest is not the same thing as a heart attack, although a heart attack can result in cardiac arrest. A heart attack is a “circulation” problem due to a blockage of an artery delivering blood and oxygen to the heart. This causes weakening of the heart, a life-changing event that can be fatal. Cardiac arrest is an “electrical” problem—in which the heart malfunctions and stops beating. It is often fatal, if appropriate steps, like CPR, are not taken immediately.
The National Texas Two Step CPR is an annual event during which volunteer medical students teach people how to react and what to do when someone goes into sudden cardiac arrest. Training sessions are only 5 minutes long and often employ the Bee Gee’s disco classic Stayin’ Alive to help participants maintain the proper pace for chest compressions. The song not only has an appropriate title, it’s got the perfect beat for the task.
“We look for songs that have 100 to 120 beats per minute, the rate you should push on the chest during CPR,” says Lena Carleton, a third year student at HWCOM. “When training children how to do CPR, we use Row, Row, Row your Boat.” Carleton is co-chair of the board of directors of the National Texas Two Step.
This year’s event will be held on Feb. 9. Twenty-five medical schools are participating. One of three training sites in Florida will be manned by 16 volunteer FIU medical students at the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Requires paid admission to the museum.)
“In a moment of crisis a lot of people wish they could do something while help is on the way,” says medical student and Two Step volunteer Larissa Andrade. “But some people are afraid they’ll hurt the victim.” This training will hopefully empower bystanders to take action and help save a life.
“It gives them the confidence that I can do this!” says Claudia Trielles, another medical student volunteer.
All of the HWCOM student volunteers are CPR certified. They’ll use mannequins to teach participants the proper way to do chest compressions. The music helps to keep the ideal pace. And in a real-life emergency, it’s easier do compressions to the beat of the catchy song than having to count compressions per minute. The aim is to bridge the gap between the cardiac arrest and the arrival of rescue personnel.
According to the American Heart Association, in the United States more than 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside the hospital each year, and about 90 percent of those people die. CPR, especially if administered immediately after cardiac arrest, can double or triple a person’s chance of survival.