Much of the research was done before experts changed CPR advice in a move many think may encourage bystanders to offer help. American Heart Association guidelines issued in 2008 emphasize quick, hard chest compressions rather than mouth-to-mouth resuscitation — removing some of the discomfort factor.
Mary Tappe owes her life to bystanders' willingness to offer help.
In 2004, she collapsed at her office in Iowa. A co-worker called 911; another quickly began CPR and someone else used the office's automated heart defibrillator. An ambulance took Tappe to the hospital, where doctors said her heart had stopped. They never determined why but implanted an internal defibrillator.
Tappe, 51, who now lives in Englewood, Colo., said raising awareness about the importance of CPR is “incredibly important because that's the first step” to helping people survive.
CPR specialist Dr. Dana Edelson, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Medical Center, said the new research echoes smaller studies showing bystander CPR depends on neighborhood characteristics, including a Chicago study that found intervention occurred most often in integrated neighborhoods.
“Nothing that we do has as big an impact on survival as CPR, and it's so cheap,” Edelson said, noting that online videos demonstrate how to do CPR.
It involves pushing hard and fast on the victim's chest; research has shown using the beat of the old Bee Gees song “Stayin' Alive” is a good guide.
“It's your ultimate low-budget solution to improving survival,” Edelson said.
Dr. David Keseg, an emergency medicine specialist at Ohio State University, has helped teach CPR to eighth-graders in inner-city Columbus, Ohio. That includes giving them free classes and CPR kits.
“We tell them to take them home and show their families and neighborhoods how to do it,” Keseg said.
“It's kind of a drop in the bucket,” but it's the kind of targeted approach that is needed to improve the odds of surviving a cardiac arrest, he said.