All medical professionals agree that the sooner CPR is started after someone’s heart stops the better. But just how long can you continue doing chest compressions to keep a person alive while waiting for trained medical help to arrive? The answer may surprise you. While no official record exists, there are a number of cases where CPR has kept a person alive for longer than you would think.
In 2011, a man in a remote town in England was given CPR for an hour and a half by 25 bystanders and passers-by until paramedics arrived. Those good Samaritans are the reason the man is alive still today.
Take for instance the American woman who went into cardiac arrest at the onset of an international flight between Vietnam and the United States late last year. After becoming unresponsive, the woman received nonstop CPR from three doctors for nearly five hours who were fortunately onboard until the flight could make an emergency landing in Alaska. Thankfully, the woman lived with no brain damage. These doctors were performing high-quality CPR (HQ CPR). Those are just two examples of how critical CPR can be to saving lives when a hospital isn’t nearby.
Why is continuing HQ CPR important even if professional help is hours away?
Doing HQ CPR keeps blood circulating in the body until trained and better-equipped medical personnel can arrive and hopefully jump-start the heart back into a normal rhythm. CPR generally doesn’t make the heart start beating again, but it does pump oxygen into the person’s lungs and thus the bloodstream to help prevent brain damage that can occur when the body’s organs are cut off from air. Restarting the heart in an adult would usually require an electric shock from an Automated External Defibrillator (AED), which isn’t always handy.
HQ CPR essentially buys time in situations where trained medical help isn’t easily reachable. Even though HQ CPR alone likely won’t result in an adult’s recovery, you can significantly increase the person’s chance of survival by placing emphasis on these, the key points of high-quality CPR:
Minimize the interruption in chest compressions (most important).
Compress to a depth of 1/3 the chest cavity (at least 2 inches in an adult, but not more than 2.4 inches).
Compress at a rate of 100-120 compressions each minute.
Provide 2 breaths to the patient that produce visible chest rise every 15-18 seconds.
Maintaining these key points over time can be strenuous and tiring, especially if you are by yourself. If you think it could be awhile before help arrives or if you find yourself far from emergency medical services, make sure to get into a comfortable position where you can keep doing compressions for a long time or plan to take turns with someone else who is also trained in CPR. Continuing high-quality CPR increases the likelihood that an AED will be successful at restarting the heart too.