First-aid training saves lives

Gino Bottino, M.D.

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Emergency medical service teams in the U.S. receive about 37 million 911 calls annually. Each year, up to a quarter of a million people may die unnecessarily because first aid isn’t more widely known.

A National Institutes of Health-funded study found that 30% of people would call an emergency number if they got injured, and around half would wait for emergency services rather than attempt first aid.

First aid could make a difference in many situations, including suffocations, chokings, drownings and heart attacks.

Suffocation, choking and drowning

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, around 16,000 kids ages 0-5 were brought to emergency departments due to suffocation injuries in 2019. Young children have a higher risk of choking as they tend to put everyday objects in their mouths as a way of exploring the world around them.

According to the National Safety Council, the elderly are also prone to choking. In fact, of the 3,000 people who died from choking in 2020, 1,430 were older than 74.

The World Health Organization considers drowning an often-neglected public health threat. The organization’s 2019 report shows that 236,000 people worldwide died by drowning.

CPR saves lives

The American Heart Association estimates that 100,000 to 200,000 adults and children could be saved each year if CPR was performed early enough.

In the U.S., roughly 350,000 resuscitation attempts occur outside hospitals each year with an average survival rate of 5 to 10%. About 750,000 resuscitation attempts occur in hospitals with a 20% survival rate. However, 70% of Americans are reluctant to perform CPR either because they lack training or their knowledge has lapsed due to expired certification. (CPR certification should be updated every year or two.) Despite CPR’s importance, many people doubt their ability to perform it successfully. Every year, 300,000 to 450,000 Americans die from cardiac arrest.

If performed immediately, CPR can double or triple the chance of survival from an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. However, only 46% of victims get CPR from a bystander, and in many cases the heart has been stopped for several minutes, which increases the chance of death. Every minute CPR is delayed, a victim’s chance of survival decreases by 10%.

Time to CPR administration and brain function

  • 0–4 minutes: brain damage unlikely; survival chances high
  • 4–6 minutes: brain damage can occur; brain death possible
  • 6–10 minutes: brain damage likely; ongoing issues likely
  • 10+ minutes: brain death likely; regaining consciousness and survival chances slim

Benefits of first-aid training

First-aid and CPR training can save lives by helping people respond quickly in a medical emergency when every second counts. First aid can also help prevent further injuries and permanent damage.

First-aid and CPR training helps create a culture of safety, making people aware of and prepared to respond to emergencies. Employee first-aid training can help employees become more conscious of workplace safety, leading to fewer accidents and injuries.

While you don’t need a special certification or formal training to perform CPR, you do need education. If cardiac arrest happens to someone near you, don’t be afraid—just be prepared! Follow these steps if you see someone in cardiac arrest:

  • Call 911. If another bystander is nearby, ask that person to call 911 and look for an automated external defibrillator while you begin CPR. AEDs electrically shock the heart and cause it to start beating again.
  • Give CPR. Push down hard and fast in the center of the chest at a rate of 100 to 120 pushes a minute. Let the chest come back up to its normal position after each push. The American Heart Association recommends timing your pushes to the beat of the song “Stayin’ Alive.” This method of CPR is called “hands-only” and does not involve breathing into the person’s mouth.
  • Continue giving CPR until medical professionals arrive or until a person with formal CPR training can take over.

After calling 911, the average wait time for medical services is seven minutes. This figure rises to 14 minutes in rural settings.

If you or someone else has new or unexplained chest pain or could be having a heart attack, call for emergency medical help immediately. Then chew a regular-strength aspirin. However, don’t take aspirin if you are allergic, have bleeding problems, take another blood-thinning medication or if your doctor previously told you not to. Never give aspirin to children.

Household Firs-Aid Kit

Get a household medical kit

Only half of U.S. households have a medical kit. I recommend having the items listed here in your household medical kit.

Helpful items in an emergency

Write down emergency phone numbers—including contact information for your family health care provider and pediatrician, local emergency services, emergency road service providers and the poison helpline—and keep them in a readily accessible location.

The following items are also helpful in an emergency:

  • medical consent forms for family members
  • medical history forms for family members
  • small waterproof flashlight or headlamp and extra batteries
  • waterproof matches
  • small notepad and waterproof writing instrument
  • emergency space blanket
  • cellphone with solar charger
  • sunscreen
  • insect repellent
  • EMT trauma shears

To get help from Poison Control in the U.S., go to poison.org or call 1-800-222-1222. Both options are free, confidential and available 24 hours a day.

Gino Bottino, M.D.

Gino Bottino, M.D., has wide experience in medical practice and emergency medical matters. A member of United States Power Squadrons First Aid Support Team (FAST) and the Safety Committee, Gino also has a background in competitive sail racing and is familiar with health-related problems afloat.

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