Want to make a difference with your New Year's resolution? Learn a life-saving skill, advocates say

Learning to do chest compressions on someone suffering cardiac arrest is an important skill for most people to learn, paramedics say. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC - image credit)
Learning to do chest compressions on someone suffering cardiac arrest is an important skill for most people to learn, paramedics say. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC - image credit)

On a day in Kelowna B.C., last February, a group of CPR-trained students had no idea that the skills they had learned would be the difference between life and death for one of their classmates.

But after saving the life of 77-year-old Murray Forbes after he had collapsed on UBC's Okanagan campus from a heart attack, those like Morgan Tucker said they were grateful to have had the skills to save him.

"We all did our jobs, and we didn't give up," said Tucker in June as part of an event marking the successful outcome at the school.

"I never imagined I would be using the skills I have to save a life. I am so thankful we have them."

Tucker, along with two other students who helped Forbes, had learned life-saving skills at the school as part of an emergency first responder team for students.

It has 35 members who've learned standard first-aid training through the Canadian Red Cross. The students are on call 24/7 throughout the academic year and aid the school's security team.

Co-ordinators with the program say it increases the number of people on campus with first aid knowledge. Also, the students take the skills with them to their communities when they graduate.

UBC
UBC

Lyle Karasiuk, the national volunteer chair for the Canadian Red Cross Council for First Aid Education, said taking a life-saving course is meant to build confidence in people to act when there are emergencies.

"Don't just be someone standing in the crowd on that subway platform, in the shopping mall, at your son or daughter's hockey game, dance recital. Don't be that person in the crowd. Step out, because if it was you lying on the floor, you would want someone to help you," he said.

In B.C. in 2021, heart disease was the second-leading cause of death in the province behind cancer, according to the B.C. Coroners Service.

'It's crucial that people get involved'

The majority of cardiac arrests occur in peoples' homes, and medical experts say every minute of delay in administering CPR reduces the chances of survival by 10 per cent.

Brian Twaites, a paramedic in B.C. for 36 years, said each year across Canada, 45,000 people go into cardiac arrest while not in hospital. Survival rates are higher for those where a family member or bystander was able to help with CPR.

"So it's crucial that people get involved," he said.

In 2010, guidelines changed to promote chest-compression-only CPR as an acceptable way for bystanders to pump the hearts of someone in cardiac arrest, without having to supply breaths.

Twaites himself has even used the technique. He said a decade ago, he and his wife were on their way home from grocery shopping when they saw a person slumped over in their vehicle.

He said they got the unresponsive person out of their vehicle and began delivering compression-only CPR, about 100 compressions per minute until first responders arrived.

"That person survived and [went] home to spend time with their family," he said. "To me, it's just more evidence [to support] stopping and helping out."

Twaites, who got interested in becoming a paramedic after learning CPR and first aid as a youth, says learning the skills would be a rewarding resolution for anyone in 2023.

"The more people that are formally trained in skills like CPR, the better it is for the general public, but the other thing is, just the fact of somebody stepping up to help when they find somebody in distress," he said about responding to things like cardiac arrests and opioid poisonings.

The Canadian Red Cross trains around 700,000 people in first aid alone every year across Canada. Certifications are good for three years.

The Life Saving Society in B.C. also offers courses, as does St. John Ambulance, with an eight-hour standard first aid course costing $120.

HealthLinkBC provides an overview of how to help in health emergencies.