Learn to Save a Loved One With CPR -- It's Not Rocket Science

06/22/2011 05:33 pm ET | Updated Aug 22, 2011

My husband collapsed so quickly that July day it looked like he'd been shot.

I'm not a doctor, but as I looked at Christopher lying still on the ground, I knew I was going to have to put the CPR skills that I'd only recently learned to use. It was the only chance of saving his life.

It happened as we were climbing a steep hill in the woods along with our three dogs near our Boston home. Christopher, who was 53, turned to me with a "bad news" look on his face. He was about to tell me he felt a little winded, but he didn't get the chance. He fell straight back and hit the ground with a thud.

I'd just watched my husband suffer sudden cardiac arrest, the abrupt loss of heart function.
This wasn't the first time. Just five months before, the same frightening thing had happened. That time, I was helpless and horrified. I had no idea that a person could keel over dead without any symptoms or warning. Fortunately, we live on a busy street and the ambulance arrived in minutes.

Doctors implanted a stent to hold open an artery before sending Christopher home. His first cardiologist reassured me it would never happen again, but because I am a lawyer who worries... well, I worried. I was afraid it would happen again, and that he'd be all alone this time. The week after he came home from the hospital, I made Christopher sit in the room with me while I showered. I wouldn't let him out of my sight.

One day I heard a story on the radio about doing CPR chest compressions by pumping to the beat of -- believe it! -- the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive." After watching a one-minute video on the Internet, I learned that I could give a sudden cardiac arrest victim a fighting chance by calling 9-1-1 and pushing hard and fast on the center of the chest.

How fast? To the beat of "Stayin' Alive." That's all there is to it.

When Christopher fell in the woods that day, I remembered that video.

I knew that the American Heart Association says that about 300,000 people die from sudden cardiac arrest each year. Would my husband become a statistic? I also knew that with every minute that passes without CPR, a sudden cardiac arrest victim's chances of survival decreases 7 to 10 percent. Would my skills be enough to save him? I had to try.

I quickly fished Christopher's phone out of his pocket, called 9-1-1 and started giving hard and fast chest compressions. Belting out "Stayin' Alive" helped me keep the beat. In the meantime, our three dogs ran off.

But I kept pushing. And singing. Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive ...

Christopher was so still and so quiet.

But I kept pumping. And singing. Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive ...

I wasn't sure if it was working. My mind raced as I thought, "He might not wake up." But I wasn't going to make that call.

So I kept pushing. And singing. Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive ...

Eventually, Christopher came back. (The dogs did, too.)

Debra and Chris Bader.

I'd kept Christopher alive long enough for the EMTs to finish the job. They arrived about 15 minutes after the 9-1-1 call, but I didn't stop pushing until they peeled me away and delivered a shock to his heart with a defibrillator.

At the hospital, we learned that Christopher's stent had become clogged. It was replaced with a drug-eluting stent to help prevent another blockage. He was also given an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, which delivers electrical shocks to his heart if he needs them.

My experience has taught me a very important lesson I want to share with the widest audience possible. Sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone, young or old, at any time. When an adult collapses, the odds are very, very high that it's from sudden cardiac arrest. Odds are also very high that the only thing bystanders will do is call 9-1-1. Medical attention is critical, but bystanders must act first -- and fast -- because every minute counts.

Waiting for help isn't an option; the worst thing you can do is nothing. By the time help arrives, the victim may not be able to be resuscitated or may have suffered terrible brain damage.

My advice to you: Learn Hands-Only CPR. It only takes a minute to learn how to help save someone's life. And it could be the life of the person you cherish most in the world.

If you don't know conventional CPR (and we should all take a class and be trained), just call 9-1-1, push hard and fast to the beat of Stayin' Alive. It's the reason my husband is stayin' alive -- and still climbing hills with me.