Even now, more than two years later, thinking about that email gives me goose bumps. It was from a man who had actually died from sudden cardiac arrest.
He was writing to tell me how he was brought back to life because he received immediate CPR, by an ordinary guy who just happened to be passing by. That ordinary guy had never even taken a CPR class, but he had the courage and compassion to react by using a CPR technique he'd seen on a national morning news program.
Tom Maimone, a 52-year-old runner, dropped dead in a driveway in Delray, Fla., in April 2009. Tom Elowson and his fiancé were driving by on their way to a friend's home. But he made a wrong turn -- one that brought him to the sight of Maimone crumpled on the ground. Elowson didn't hesitate to stop and get involved. Other bystanders called 911, while Elowson pushed on Maimone's chest while humming a familiar tune:
"Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive. Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive."
He wasn't just randomly humming "Stayin' Alive," the song the Bee Gees made famous in the 1970s classic "Saturday Night Fever."
Elowson remembered seeing a segment on a national morning news show about an easy method to do CPR. Just push hard and fast on the center on the victim's chest to the beat of the song.
Paramedics arrived a few minutes later, and after a couple of shocks with an AED, Maimone regained consciousness. At the hospital, he received a stent because of a blockage in his coronary artery. Soon after, he walked out of the hospital. Maimone says he got a new birthday that day, thanks to the heroic efforts of a perfect stranger, who is now a special friend.
I desperately wish more people knew how easy it is to give people that second chance at life.
Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), the abrupt loss of heart function, happens more often than you probably think -- more than 800 times a day across America. It can strike a healthy person who doesn't have heart disease.
A man clutching his chest in an airport or a woman who has collapsed at a restaurant may be experiencing SCA. Unfortunately, bystanders will often call 911 and wait for help. But waiting is the worst thing you can do, because every second counts. By the time paramedics arrive, the chance of survival is often zero. Without help, the victim will probably die or survive with severe brain damage.
The Stayin' Alive CPR method came to life because I needed an innovative method to emphasize the importance of CPR and early AED use to my students in Hawaii. I don't like boring presentations, so I created a skit in which one student walked up onto the stage and suddenly collapsed of apparent SCA. Then a group of residents sporting dark glasses, gold chains and a boombox blaring "Stayin' Alive" rushed up to the stage to perform CPR. The teaching point? Let's do everything we can to help this guy stay alive.
That got me to thinking about the beat of "Stayin' Alive." I listened to it again and realized it had about 100 beats per minute -- the same rate the American Heart Association recommends for CPR chest compressions.
A song with a rhythm of at least 100 beats per minute with a title that is the goal of CPR -- "Stayin' Alive" -- seemed like the perfect teaching tool!
Students practiced on mannequins, and before long, they were humming and strutting and releasing their inner John Travolta. After the word got out in the 2006 Currents publication for AHA CPR instructors (and eventually the media), I was shocked to hear from people from around the world -- from an ER nurse in Alaska to a hospital CEO in Botswana, Africa. And, most importantly, from people like Elowson and Maimone.
They've proven that you really can save someone's life with immediate bystander Hands-Only CPR. It can actually double or triple a victim's chance of survival from SCA.
If you're unwilling or unable to do conventional CPR (which involves rescue breaths), just call 911 and push hard and fast on the center of the victim's chest to the rate of at least 100 compressions a minute. Sing "Stayin' Alive" (or have someone nearby do it) to help you stay on track.
Hands-Only CPR isn't better than conventional CPR, and it's not going to completely replace it. But it buys critical time until the paramedics get there with an AED to shock the victim's heart into its normal rhythm. And it's the reason Tom Maimone is alive.
Remember: Even if you're not a CPR expert, you're not going to make things worse by jumping in to help. The victim has already died because their heart is no longer beating effectively.
I had the privilege of meeting Tom the rescuer in the fall, when he came to Hawaii the 50th state to celebrate his birthday. And get this: It was his 50th birthday -- and it took place in October 2010, the 50-year anniversary to the month that CPR began in the USA. It was an honor to shake the hand of someone who'd acted so courageously. And when we called Tom Maimone -- still breathing, still running and living his life in Florida -- hearing the voice of someone who had technically died was priceless.
You can learn Hands-Only CPR by watching this hilarious and important new video starring Ken Jeong.
It's simple. It saves lives. And you can do it. And that's something to sing about.
To learn more, please visit: http://www.crowdrise.com/handsonlycpr.