Haunted by an episode when no one was able to help a stricken man, Bryan Platz has launched a lifesaving campaign to train bystanders.
When Coon Rapids police officer Bryan Platz arrived on the scene, bystanders had circled the man who lay dying on the ground. He had collapsed on his way into a retail store, suffering sudden cardiac arrest.
No one helped. No one knew how.
“There were no less than 10 people who were standing around this man doing nothing. Half of those people were in the store’s uniform,” Platz said. “It haunts you. You say, ‘what if?’ ”
The advent of the AED, or automated external defibrillator, and hands-only CPR makes it easier for bystanders to render aid and save lives. Yet many opportunities are lost because of lack of action and training.
Platz is trying to change that. He has launched a grass-roots-style campaign to make Coon Rapids a Heart Safe community, a designation awarded by the Minnesota Department of Health and nonprofit partners including Allina Heath. About 20 communities in the state have it.
Being Heart Safe means teaching hands-only CPR and making sure businesses have AEDs — with batteries charged — and that their employees know where they are and how to use them.
In the United States, only 8 percent of the 383,000 people who suffer out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest each year survive, according to the American Heart Association. In Minnesota, it’s about 14 percent. Effective bystander CPR can double or triple the chance of survival, but bystanders intervene only about one-third of the time.
In Minnesota bystanders intervene even less often — about 23 percent the time, said Katie Tewalt, Heart Safe Community Supervisor at Allina Health.
Fear of doing harm
The biggest hurdle is helping people overcome the fear that they’ll do more harm than good.
“People are so afraid to help,” Platz said. “But there is nothing you can do to this person. They’re already dead. … When you do CPR, you are going to break ribs. It’s gross. You will hear it. You have to push through that.”
Seems like a jarring course of action, but it could save a life, said Barbara Ducharme, senior director of community health with the American Heart Association.
“If someone has a sudden cardiac arrest, they are already technically dead. It’s always better to do something than nothing,” she said.
Sudden cardiac arrest is caused by an electrical malfunction of the heart called ventricular fibrillation, which causes a quivering of the heart muscle that makes it unable to pump blood through the body, according to the American Heart Association. It is not a heart attack, which occurs when plaque or clots block blood flow to the heart.
“We are having a lot of saves in Minnesota and across the country with people who have had sudden cardiac arrest,” Ducharme said.
If someone collapses unconscious, bystanders should check for signs of life, call 911, have another bystander seek out an AED and then start hands-only CPR. Push hard and fast in the center of the chest at a rate of 100 beats a minute — to the beat of the classic disco song “Stayin’ Alive,” according to the American Heart Association.
Most 911 dispatchers will even walk bystanders through hands-only CPR on the phone in an emergency. A Ham Lake dad saved his 11-year-old son’s life by following a dispatcher’s instructions over the phone, Tewalt said.
Platz said people also fear liability and believe they need extensive medical training to intervene. But bystanders are protected by the state’s good Samaritan law and you don’t need to be a doctor to save a life, Platz said.