Meet Matt Batten. He’s a paramedic and first aid trainer. I’m a Communications Manager at Elsevier, based in Oxford, UK. You may not think our lives would overlap much, but when it comes to saving lives – and teaching others to do the same – we share some remarkable connections.
On World Restart a Heart Day, we got together as part of Elsevier’s RE Cares program to teach local Elsevier staff basic lifesaving skills. Following the event, we headed to a nearby school to do the same for the pupils there. In this article, we explore the links that brought us together, showcase the simple skills you can learn (and teach!) to help save lives, and explain the science behind it all.
For me personally, being able to use my RE Cares leave from Elsevier to volunteer in the local community and take part in events like this – doing something both practical and meaningful – is a fantastic opportunity.
In the UK alone, over 30,000 people suffer cardiac arrests outside of hospital every year. If this happens in front of a bystander who starts CPR immediately before the arrival of an ambulance, the victim’s chances of survival can double or even triple. Using a defibrillator early can produce survival rates as high as 70 percent, and yet sadly here in the UK, fewer than two percent of victims have a defibrillator deployed before an ambulance arrives.
To improve these statistics, I’ve taught hundreds of others in the community over the past few months. The guidelines I follow are the same as those used by Matt in his paramedic work and teaching, and they prompt another connection – they appear in the Elsevier-published journal Resuscitation .
How to save a life: tried and tested
Push hard and fast: that’s it in a nutshell.
Being a paramedic within the NHS, Matt has been a happy witness to many new lives coming into the world, but sadly he’s also been present at the end of countless lives following cardiac arrest. In his 15-year, career Matt has sometimes seen people go above and beyond to save a life; yet all too often it’s clear that bystanders are reluctant to get involved:
I can remember a job where I ran into a building on the outside of which was a defibrillator. Inside, there was a patient in cardiac arrest, but no-one had found the confidence to grab the machine and try to save a life.
Whilst there are many reasons for this, such as overwhelming emotion or the frailty of the potential rescuer, it is true that doing something is better than nothing. Here, Matt writes about the steps to save a life:
The chain of survival
The “chain of survival” has been taught for many years, but what does it actually mean? Made up of four parts, each link is a vital component in the fight to save a life:
- Recognizing that someone is in cardiac arrest and calling for help starts off the chain.
- Once help has been arranged, CPR should then be commenced: push hard and fast on the center of the casualty’s chest thirty times at 100-120 beats per minute to a depth of 5-6cm. After 30 compressions, open the airway by lifting the chin and tilting the head back and give two rescue breaths. Continue with chest compressions and rescue breaths in a ratio of 30:2. This buys the casualty time by pushing oxygenated blood around their body helping to preserve their vital organs.
- The third link in the chain is early defibrillation. When someone's heart stops beating, the electrical activity of the heart can be chaotic and fast. The use of an automated external defibrillator (AED) stops that chaotic electrical activity with the aim of allowing the sinoatrial node – the heart's natural pacemaker – to start firing off normal electrical impulses and hence encourages the heart to start beating on its own again. Apply a defibrillator as soon as possible and follow its instructions. You cannot harm the casualty by doing so, and a shock will only be delivered if the patient needs one.
- The fourth and final link in the chain is for the ambulance service to arrive, carry on with post-resuscitative care and transport the casualty to an emergency department.
With every minute that passes when someone is in cardiac arrest, the lack of CPR and use of a defibrillator reduces their chances of survival by 7 to 10 percent on average. This is where bystanders can make a real difference. Ambulance personnel will be dispatched and aim to arrive at the patient's side as quickly as possible, but as a huge body of evidence shows and as has been demonstrated many times in Matt’s career, the survival of a cardiac arrest victim is greatly increased by bystander CPR.
— Matt Batten
Anyone can be a lifesaver
Both of us have been teaching for years and repeatedly make the point in our sessions that practically anyone can do CPR and use a defibrillator. Even better, anyone can teach and thereby increase the pool of those who are able and willing to step forward if the moment came. Several studies have shown the vital importance of defibrillators being available in local communities – but despite hundreds of the devices having been installed, we are still confronted with sobering statistics like those above.
The power is in your hands
The message, then, is that something is better than nothing – performing CPR and using a defibrillator will at least give a casualty a chance at survival. Short of bashing them on the head with the device, you cannot do anyone any harm with an AED, but it may well save their life. If you get the opportunity, get trained, get confident and, if possible, look at how you can pass on your skills to others.
In the meantime, we will continue our work and keep trying to grow the body of local lifesavers, whilst exploring our other connections. Like the time Matt came to help me deliver my baby son … but that’s another story!