Watching someone go into cardiac arrest and then die before the ambulance arrives is like watching a train wreck in slow motion.
It is a undeniably human to want to save the person.
Why then are bystander cardiopulmonary-resuscitation rates hovering between 10 per cent and 20 per cent in every jurisdiction in Canada? Dr. Mark Di Buono, with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, calls this "abysmal."
Why does no provincial ministry of education make a 30-minute course in how to administer CPR mandatory for high school students?
These shockingly low rates of intervention can and must be reversed. High schools across the country must make it a priority to teach CPR, and embed the course in the curriculum, as education ministries have done successfully in Washington state, as well as Finland, Norway and Sweden. It should not be left up to individual school boards to decide whether CPR is a priority.
As well, every Canadian must think about the consequences of not knowing how to perform CPR. Consider this: One in 100 children is born with congenital heart defects that often go undetected and undiagnosed until the child collapses on the hockey rink or basketball court.
The survival rate for the 40,000 Canadians who experience a cardiac arrest every year is just 5 per cent. It takes, on average, five minutes for paramedics to arrive; but a person's brain shuts down four minutes after their heart stops pumping. Early CPR, combined with the use of a automated external defibrillator, can help improve the survival rate by 70 per cent.
There is some bright news on the horizon: A bill, scheduled for third reading in the Ontario legislature this fall, proposes mandating the installation of automated external defibrillators in schools, fitness facilities and hockey arenas, as 17 U.S. states now have done. If it passes, and there is every expectation it will, and other provinces then follow suit, Canada will be the first country in the world to have mandatory access to these units in public spaces.
Once plugged in, these machines issue prompts that make the process of saving a life easy, detailing what signs to be alert for, how to check the pulse, do chest compressions, and call 911.
By teaching students how to administer CPR, and by making defibrillators as ubiquitous in public spaces as fire extinguishers, lives can be saved - 10,000 lives a year, according to Dr. Di Buono.