Driftless Health: When seconds count… CPR and AEDs save lives

By Denise Lana,


Every year in the U.S., more than 435,000 people die from cardiac arrest (when the heart stops beating) due to coronary artery and heart disease, obesity, trauma, smoking, high cholesterol and other causes. According to the American Heart Association, up to 40 percent of these deaths could be prevented if cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) was performed early enough after the cardiac event. 

CPR is an emergency procedure where one performs chest compressions and breathes for a person whose heart has stopped, keeping oxygenated blood flowing to the brain and vital organs until emergency medical professionals can intervene. 

The brain can only survive around four minutes without oxygen, so CPR needs to be performed as soon as possible to improve the odds of being successful. 

In addition to CPR, knowing how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED) can boost life-saving measures. An AED is a portable box-shaped device, also known as a defibrillator, that has a cable attached to two sticky pads, or electrodes, that are attached to a victim’s chest. The electrodes read the heart rhythm of the victim, and the defibrillator determines if the heart’s rhythm is normal or if an electric shock is needed to reset the heart.  

Local lives saved

In two separate events recently in Decorah, expeditious CPR and AED usage proved invaluable, saving two victim’s lives. The first victim was unresponsive and an officer from the Decorah Police Department and a deputy from the Winneshiek Sheriff’s Department responded in tandem within several minutes. They began two-person CPR until an ambulance arrived. The second victim collapsed outside his residence, and a DPD officer was on scene within two minutes after being dispatched to the scene. The officer performed CPR and utilized his portable AED.  

“High-quality lifesaving CPR… It is truly a fight for someone’s life,” expressed Decorah Police Chief Tricia Thein.  “When seconds count, CPR works.” 

All police officers, fire personnel and emergency medical personnel are highly-trained and well-versed in a variety of life-saving procedures. But no one needs a uniform or a badge, certification or formal training to perform CPR or operate an AED. Education about the processes and courage to act are the main requisites. 

Every minute counts

“It is riskier not to perform CPR!” according to the American Heart Association, “Don’t get scared about cracking ribs or damaging organs, as these risks are minor when compared to providing oxygen and blood flow to a victim’s body and preventing brain damage or death. Every minute counts, with a victim’s chances of survival decreasing 7-10 percent each minute that passes by with no CPR given — any life-saving aid is better than none! If someone is unresponsive, call 911 immediately or point to a bystander and direct him/her to call 911. If possible, ask a bystander to locate an AED.”

Familiarization with the basic steps of CPR is paramount, as is recognizing signs and symptoms of cardiac events and being prepared to act quickly. 

• Check the victim for a pulse. 

• If the victim does not have a pulse, push down hard on the breastbone in the middle of the chest, at least two inches deep for an adult or child and one-and-a-half inches for an infant. 

• Between 100 and 120 chest compressions per minute are necessary. AHA suggests keeping the beat to a fast song like “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees, “Y.M.C.A.” by the Village People, “Crazy in Love” by Beyonce, even “Baby Shark”! There are several websites expressly dedicated to playlists of songs that can be used to perform CPR; search “The Great CPR Playlist” and find your perfect tune!

• Perform compressions for as long as possible, or swap often with a bystander who knows how to do CPR as well.  

• If comfortable or trained in CPR, perform rescue breaths with chest compressions at a ratio of two breaths to every 30 compressions. 

• If an AED is available, follow the illustrated or voice instructions and visual prompts to attach the electrodes to the victim’s chest and follow the device’s prompts.  

• Continue providing CPR, or in the case of a victim, reviving. Monitor the victim until emergency personnel arrive and take over.

Chief Thein stressed, “Chest compressions are the priority in CPR. Depth of compressions and consistent rhythm are important factors — chest compressions without rescue breathing can still save lives.”

AEDs widely available

AEDs are located in public places usually near entrances or in locations where the largest group of people may congregate. It is a good idea to familiarize oneself with AED locations when visiting school buildings, shopping malls, churches, courthouses and government facilities, grocery stores and airports. 

According to Steve Vanden Brink, Director of Ambulance Services at WinnMed, there is no formal list of AED locations throughout the Driftless area, but he invites businesses and organizations who have AEDs to contact their county dispatch center and request their AED location be added to the computerized map or list, if available.  

“Large businesses like Deco, Stanley, Gemini, even Toppling Goliath, have AEDs on site,” Vanden Brink said.  “Law enforcement vehicles also carry AEDs.”  

Keep in mind that although CPR is not always successful and it may not revive a victim, performing CPR can buy time until medical care can arrive, improving changes of survival.  

If interested in receiving CPR training or AED instruction, contact your county’s Emergency Management Office or visit www.Red Cross.org.  

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