The American Red Cross website features cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) stories front and center. The plot is always the same - normal people enjoying a normal day until something horribly abnormal happens then, thanks to some well-placed bystanders equipped with the life-saving skills of CPR, a person survives.
My save story was no different.
It was a warm spring day in South Florida, so my husband and I took our one-year-old son down to the pool in our condo building. After enjoying the water, and of course taking lots of pictures, we decided to take a break as the pool became slightly more crowded with a group of kids. One of these was 5-year-old Gio, who’d arrived a few minutes earlier with his mom and his sister.
That’s pretty much all I remember until my husband’s urgent voice broke into my daydreams “Steph, go!” As I turned around, I saw Gio’s limp, body being pulled from the bottom of the pool and heard the screams of his sister. I handed my son over and ran to help. Gio was a terrifying shade of blue I had never seen before. There was no pulse, he was not breathing, and I was shaking.
At the time I was a chief resident of pediatrics and technically a board certified pediatrician however nothing really prepares you for out of hospital CPR. There were no ambu bag, monitors, other doctors, or nurses to help. As I started doing chest compressions, the magnitude of the situation hit me. This little boy was basically dead, I was trying to save him and despite there being multiple bystanders, there was no one else to help.
As I listened to the distant sirens, I recall thinking: “30:2 or should it be 15:2, but the air isn’t going in.” I grabbed his arm to check for a brachial pulse. Just as the doors to the pool courtyard opened, I felt it...it was weak...but it was there. The EMT team rushed in and took over and got him into an ambulance. A few minutes later it was eerily calm. Only those of us who’d been there could have imagined the life or death scene that had just taken place.
Gio survived and has done remarkably well but there easily could have been a more devastating outcome. Drownings are the leading cause of death in children age 1-4. Every year in the United States, there are an average of more than 700 children who die from unintentional drownings. However, for every child who dies from drowning, another five receive treatment in the emergency department for nonfatal submersion injuries. These nonfatal injuries may lead to long-term memory problems and learning disabilities, but can also have devastating effects on overall functioning.
Of course the value of CPR extends far beyond the swimming pool. Simply put, it can help anyone who is unconscious, not breathing and does not have a pulse. The American Heart Association estimates that 70 percent of Americans are not adequately trained in CPR. This is a significant number considering that most emergencies that would require bystander CPR occur at home and involve loved ones: spouses, parents, children, and friends. When someone stops breathing or their heart stops beating, they can only survive 4 to 6 minutes before the lack of oxygen can result in brain damage or death.Timely, effective bystander CPR can double a victim’s chance of survival after a cardiac arrest.
Since that day in March 2012, I have become a far stronger advocate for water safety, swim lessons, pool gates and I routinely ask my patients their family rules for going near water. Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics released it’s Sun and Water Safety Tips stating whenever children under age 5 are in or around water, an adult - preferably one who knows how to swim and perform CPR - should be within arm’s length, providing “touch supervision.”
Parenthood is hard work—and it requires thinking ahead. We put daily “nut free” notes in our kids’ lunch. We ask about allergies and laydates. CPR is no different. It’s a matter of life and death. We’d do well to add “CPR trained adult” to our fun-in-the-sun checklists.