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Less than one in three Toronto bystanders who witness a cardiac arrest try to help: study

Unregistered defibrillators mean 911 dispatchers are unaware and devices are not used.

Toronto, November 6, 2009

Researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital working in conjunction with EMS services, paramedics and fire services across Ontario found that a bystander who attempts cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can quadruple the survival rate to over 50 per cent. But Dr. Laurie Morrison and the research team at Rescu (www.rescu.ca) have found only 30 per cent of bystanders in Toronto are willing to help, one of the lowest rates of bystanders helping others in the developed world.

“Over the last four years, we have been working hard with paramedics and firefighters in Southern Ontario to increase the survival rate of people who experience cardiac arrest outside of the hospital,” says Dr. Morrison. “Since 2004, our efforts have managed to triple the survival rate in the Toronto area but it is still less than 10 per cent.”

Compared to other cities during the same time frame, Toronto has much lower rates of bystander CPR and survival. The research team wants to encourage all Canadians to learn the basics of CPR. Home is one of the most common places for cardiac arrests so learning CPR could mean saving a family member’s life.

“Even if you perform hands-only CPR, and focus on compressing the chest, you can give a victim of cardiac arrest as much as a 1 in 2 chance of surviving,” says Dr. Marco Di Buono, Director of Research at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, “on the contrary, doing nothing virtually guarantees the victim will not survive at all.”

“You can learn CPR in 20 minutes with a personal learning kit available through the Heart and Stroke Foundation website (www.heartandstroke.ca/restart) or by simply watching a video on Youtube,” explains Dr. Morrison. “I believe that we should be teaching CPR and AED use in all schools so that helping someone in cardiac arrest is a learned behaviour. You may never need to use your training but if you are a witness, you will be more likely to jump in and help. If you do nothing, very few will survive.”

Under Ontario’s Good Samaritan Act of 2001, bystanders who assist others with all good intentions are not liable.