How to Save a Life with Hands-Only CPR
Giving hands-only CPR to someone in cardiac arrest can double or triple their chances of survival. Here's what you need to know.
Shane McGovern was jogging in his New Orleans neighborhood when a neighbor ran out of her home, yelling for help. Shane rushed into the house and found the young woman’s father in bed, his face blue. Shane thought back to an episode of the TV show The Office, where the characters had taken a CPR training class.
“I remember Michael Scott crouched over the dummy, practicing doing compressions, and that clicked into place,” he says. So while they waited for the ambulance, Shane performed what is called hands-only CPR, when you do only chest compressions (no mouth-to-mouth). Shane is one of thousands of bystanders who have stepped in to help someone in cardiac arrest when time is so critical. For every minute the heart has stopped, the survival rate decreases by 10 percent.
Within five minutes, brain cells begin to die. “The most important thing is to keep the blood moving throughout the body, and that’s what you’re doing with the chest compressions,” says Benjamin Abella, M.D., director of Penn Medicine’s Center for Resuscitation Science and an emergency medicine physician in Philadelphia. Done correctly, hands-only CPR is as effective on adults as mouth-to-mouth, and experts hope that more people who are either uncomfortable with or not trained in traditional CPR will be willing to perform hands-only.
One way to remember how to do the chest compressions is to sing a song with the right beat in your head. That’s what David Ramirez did when he saw coworker Monique Brathwaite collapse in 2016. “I remembered watching a video on hands-only CPR, and they gave the Bee Gees ‘Stayin’ Alive’ as the guideline,” David says. “I had the song in my head and kept praying ‘keep alive, keep alive’ to the rhythm.” Thanks to David, Monique was able to receive medical treatment and recovered. “You can’t wait for help to arrive,” says Holly Andersen, M.D., a cardiologist at New York Presbyterian Hospital and director of education and outreach at the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute. “It’s great to be certified in CPR, but you don’t have to be. And the worst thing you can do is to do nothing.”
Follow these simple steps to give hands-only CPR the right way.
Call 911, Then Start Chest Compression
If the person in cardiac arrest is unresponsive and not breathing normally, kneel next to her torso. Place one hand on top of the other and interlace your fingers. Place the heel of your bottom palm on the center of the victim's chest. Position your shoulders directly over your hands with your arms straight so you can do the compressions efficiently.
Push Hard and Fast
Use your body weight to push down at least two inches and do two compressions per second. (Remember, you can push to the beat of ‘Stayin’ Alive’ by the Bee Gees–“Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash works too.)
Keep It Up
Don't stop giving chest compressions until the ambulance arrives. Compressions help keep blood circulating throughout the body and brain cells alive.
If you'd like to know more about hands-only CPR, these resources can help you learn the techniques: At cpr.heart.org you can learn traditional and hands-only CPR and find in-person classes near you. Check out handsonly.nyc to find an instructional video for hands-only CPR. The American Red Cross First Aid app also includes a tutorial.