Save A Life

7 Steps That Might Save A Life

Image of a defibrillator courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Lists of seven ways to improve yourself are popular on the web. Here is a seven-item list that could save lives. But first a little background.

A few days ago in Russia, one of the most promising young hockey players in the world, Alexei Cherepanov, died when his heart stopped working during a game in the Russian elite Continental Hockey League. Apparently there was one non-functioning defibrillator in the building.

How may people know what a defibrillator is and how to us one? A week ago I didn’t. Now I do. Here is my story and I hope it helps someone some day.

I am 63 years old and play old timers’ hockey. I was in a rush as I arrived late at our local rink a few nights ago. I wasn’t really late for the game, but I was the last guy in the dressing room, just 15 minutes before game time. It was 7.45 in the evening.

“You have been selected, Steve, because you are the last guy here.” I was told. “You have to come to the rink again tomorrow night at 7.30”

“What for?” I asked.

“They are giving a course on the use of a defibrillator and every team has to send someone” I was told.

“OK” I said and got my gear on as quickly as possible. I might learn something new, I thought.

The next evening I arrived on time for the presentation on how to use a defibrillator.  I had visions of some complicated machine with lots of wires. In fact it is very compact. It looks like a little yellow portable radio. Officially it is called an AED, for automated external defibrillator.

Our instructor was an off-duty fireman who was moonlighting for the company that distributes the AED device.

Here, in point form, is what I learned:

1. Anyone can suffer a sudden heart attack, regardless of age. A healthy 25 year old Detroit Red Wings hockey player named Jiri Fischer had a sudden cardiac arrest in a game. He was saved by an AED. Most professional sports teams in North America have AEDs on the bench.

2. At the first sign of any possible heart related problem, call 911 or emergency immediately. Time is of the essence.

3. If the victim has strong chest pains, or pains in the shoulder or jaw, this is a good sign. He or she may be having a heart attack, but the heart is still functioning. Just wait for the ambulance to show up.

4. If the person is quiet you have to move fast. If the heart has stopped, every minute equals a 10% deterioration in the functioning of the heart. It may not be possible to recover this loss of heart function. Our fireman instructor said that he always relaxes when he arrives on the scene and hears the victim groaning in pain. When the victim is quiet he worries.

5. If the victim just lies there lifelessly, and if no breathing is detected, it is essential to use the defibrillator as soon as possible. CPR  will not help if the heart has stopped. The fireman said that before he had an AED, he would be called to assist heart attack victims and his efforts all too often turned out to be in vain. Now with the AED, he saves well over 70% of these victims, and an even higher percentage if he gets to them early enough. I understood that, after calling emergency, if there is no sign of heart activity in the victim, it is vital to use the AED as soon as possible.

6. The AED is easy to use. Pads are attached to the victim’s chest, right onto his skin. There are clear and easy to understand drawings of where to put the pads. The AED comes with a voice recording, giving instructions, telling you what to do. Once the pads are connected, the AED starts to measure the heart of the victim, providing a valuable diagnostic record of the victim’s problem and progress. Depending on the diagnosis, the recording may instruct you to press the appropriate button which will deliver an electric shock to the victim. Everyone is required to stand clear of the victim before the shock is delivered. The electric shock will usually revive the victim’s heart. Occasionally an additional shock by the defibrillator is needed. In any case the AED’s voice recording provides all the necessary instructions.

7. Once the heart is beating and the victim starts breathing, CPR techniques should be applied, until the emergency response people arrive. When doing CPR, it is not necessary to do mouth to mouth, especially if you do not have a special mask to protect you from blood or other liquids from the victim’s mouth. Strong repetitive pressure or pumping on the chest is good enough. And, the fireman added, do not worry about the sound of cracking ribs. Even a broken rib is a minor problem compared to a heart that stops functioning.

I now know where the two AEDs at our local hockey rink are located. Do you know where they are in your building? I think our team will now make sure we have a cell phone at the bench for our games, so that we can call the ambulance immediately. We will be better prepared for an eventuality that may not happen. But if it does, the victim will stand a better chance of full recovery.

AEDs used to be very clumsy and expensive, but they now cost around $1,500 each and the price is coming down. Our fireman felt that one day they will be as common as fire extinguishers in the home.

I got home and checked out AED and CPR on the internet and youtube and found a great deal of useful information. Everyone should find out about these devices, and about what to do in the case of a heart attack. It could save a life.


Steve Kaufmann is a former Canadian diplomat, who has had his own company in the international trade of forest products for over 20 years.  Steve enjoys learning languages and maintains a blog on language learning. He speaks nine languages fluently and has been learning Russian for over two years, using LingQ, a language learning community that he founded.