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I recently had the opportunity to celebrate an extraordinary event with a former patient, Brian Atkins, his family, friends, and many of my staff-the 1-year anniversary of Brian's successful resuscitation from cardiopulmonary arrest at age 15.1 What started as a normal day for the teen turned into a tragedy when he suffered sudden cardiac death at a friend's home. It's certainly not unheard of to save someone this young with immediate CPR after a witnessed cardiac arrest; what's astounding is that Brian received more than 1 hour of continuous, high-quality CPR at the scene, in the ambulance, and in the ED until aggressive medical efforts ultimately turned the tide. The story behind that CPR performance is worth telling.
Enter Betsy Foster, a retired emergency nurse, who happened to be visiting the home where Brian collapsed. She attended Brian's "celebration of life" at my hospital and later spoke to me about the encounter. Betsy told me she'd performed CPR in clinical settings many times but she'd never needed to initiate it on anyone outside a hospital. When she found Brian lying on the floor unresponsive and apneic, she checked for a pulse and initially doubted herself when she couldn't feel one. She worried that if she started CPR and he still had a pulse, she might hurt him. Then instincts took over and she began compressions. It was the first time she'd ever performed mouth-to-mouth ventilation without a mask or barrier device. Betsy described the experience as "a pure act" of humanity.* Betsy's "pure act" initiated the American Heart Association's chain of survival that ultimately saved Brian's life.
My nursing colleagues wondered out loud how they'd personally respond in similar circumstances without all of the clinical resources we so often take for granted. It's a question worth asking because none of us knows how or when we might be called upon to do the same.
This editorial is dedicated to you, Betsy Foster, and to everyone in this world who's acted selflessly to save lives. Thank you for your pure acts of humanity.
Until next time-
Linda Laskowski-Jones, MS, RN, ACNS-BC, CEN, FAWM
Editor-in-Chief, Nursing2011 Vice President, Emergency, Trauma, and Aeromedical Services Christiana Care Health System, Wilmington, Del.
1. One year after sudden-death event, Delaware teen celebrates life. Christiana Care News.http://news.christianacare.org/2011/07/one-year-after-sudden-death-event-delawar. [Context Link]
*Although the AHA teaches the use of barrier devices in the CPR course for healthcare professionals, Betsy did not have one and made a personal choice to perform mouth-to-mouth ventilation. That decision is what made her efforts a pure act of humanity. [Context Link]
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