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Hearts and Heart Health: CPR Is A Community Concern

With the news that the American Heart Association is changing its CPR guidelines, I started wondering just how many parents on the sidelines would know what to do if a child or coach went down (e.g. into sudden cardiac arrest or had a heart attack)? Granted, the medical reality can get complicated whenever a person is “down” but from our perspective in the medical profession, we want you to focus on one thing: a person’s heart. It really is that simple. Young or old, it is the heart that will keep that person alive until that person can get to a hospital for true medical care to begin. The actual diagnosis of what is happening to a person is really not as important in the field as you may think. But, keeping a person alive truly is.

Why in the world would you want to learn CPR as a parent?

There are many reasons, for you, your kids and your community to learn CPR: and how to use an AED

  1. Saving lives

  2. Preventive life saving

  3. Peace of mind

The honest truth is we can’t always be sure of the heart health of any of us. Sports involve exertion. Cheering involves exertion. Being a parent and wanting the best for our kids is an exertion. Being a coach is an exertion. I think you get the picture!

With hearts, seconds count. If we all accept that responsibility for each other and each other’s kids we can be healthier community. We can have the peace of mind that all of our kids will be well cared for if there is something wrong that we can’t predict because another parent will be there to pitch in. If we take a community approach, then we will all benefit.

CPR is intimidating to many people as are terms like “AED”. MomsTeam has an entire health and safety center on cardiac (e.g. heart) safety with a wealth of information on this topict. But, before you get to that point, a primer on the heart and why this is all important, and why you need to know CPR will help you know what to learn and when. If seconds count, you won’t have time to open up our webpage for info!

What causes heart problems in kids?

Heart disease has many causes but in a nutshell can be boiled down to two main groups: congenital and acquired. Congenital heart disease is common in kids and ranges from very mild, almost undetectable lesions, to very serious, life-threatening lesions requiring surgery. The most serious heart conditions in children are detectable almost immediately after birth and I’ll get to those in a moment.

Acquired heart disease occurs due to exposure to the living world. Infections can cause heart disease and later problems as can a poor diet leading to high blood pressure and cholesterol and triglyceride issues. One of the most common cause of acquired heart disease is rheumatic fever from strep. Not as common these days but a big problem pre-penicillin. Other diseases can impact heart health as well as some medications for chronic diseases and cancers. So, there is a huge range of acquired heart disease, too.

A final group of acquired heart disease in kids is trauma to the chest, a condition called commotio cordis. This can occur with any big impact to the strernum, or breast bone, such as with a motor vehicle accident or in contact sports, and can result in a very frightening alteration of the electrical current in the heart causing arrhythmias of all kinds that causes situations similar to a heart attack, and rarely even a heart attack.

CPR: The evolution of a science

Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, or CPR for short, has evolved greatly over the years and is different for infants, children, and adults. The physiology of hearts of different ages is what dictates the changes for CPR. However, what experts have realized is that for CPR to be successful, it has to be simple for people to not only do but recall. After all, seconds count!

Over the years, the recommendations have kept changing as our understanding of circulation evolves. And, this year, the CPR guidelines for adults changed once again to take into account that what saves lives is maximizing blood pumping to vital organs and the fact that heart attacks are the number one cause of cardio-pulmonary collapse in adults. So, the new recommendations are for 100 continuous chest pumps before any breaths are given. This may seem counter intuitive to you by not having air forced into the lungs but that is because air is not what saves lives, blood circulating to vital organs is what saves lives. Air is an important vehicle for oxygen but we only need a small amount of that during a crisis.

However, these new changes do not apply to kids. In kids what causes cardio-pulmonary collapse is usually a respiratory issue well before the heart ever stops. So, breathing for a child during a crisis becomes much more important than it is for an adult.

To learn or not to learn CPR

So, should you learn CPR? Absolutely! Learn it for your family. Learn it for your neighbor’s family. Learn it because you want other families to learn it for you and your family. None of us can predict where we may be if a medical crisis strikes and the best we can all do is be prepared and know what to do in case of emergency. I can tell you from my own medical training that medical training with drills and practices is what gets you through an emergency and CPR courses are designed to do that for you. They sound intimidating but are actually very simple.

So, call your local health department or hospital and find a CPR course. And, bring along a few friends and neighbors. The more people in your community who know CPR, the better you and your family will be protected from heart emergencies.


Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, MD is a pediatrician living in the Boston area and the founder and Editor-In-Chief of www.Pediatricsnow.com.

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