Doing whatever it takes to save lives


The Star’s July 4 exclusive report on outdoor enthusiasts dying from sudden cardiac arrest while cycling and hiking after staying at home during the MCO for months.

ONE of the most disconcerting things I learned about cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is that I will most likely crack every rib of the cardiac arrest victim while doing it.

I realised this when it was my turn to try CPR on a dummy, pushing the chest down by 5cm to 6cm 120 times a minute.

“Don’t worry. In all my years as a doctor, I cracked many, many ribs while doing CPR. Krac-Krac-Krac. You can hear them fracturing, ” said cardiologist Dr Goh Eng Leong who has been the chairman of Penang CPR Society since 2002.

“However, the ribs will heal. When the patients wake up, they will still thank you even though their ribs hurt.”

The other thing I will never forget learning is that since it is hard to count 120 pushes a minute while desperately trying to save a life, I must learn the children’s song ‘Baby Shark’; pushing at the tempo of the song will correctly yield about 120 pushes a minute.

I had the blessing recently to attend a free course on how to do CPR, and this course was specially conducted for sports and outdoor enthusiasts.

There were about 30 of us and we all looked pretty fit and healthy. We all wanted to learn CPR because when we are outdoors, any of us or our friends might get sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).

“We at the hospital actually have a lower chance of encountering an SCA victim than people outdoors because SCA happens most often when people are out cycling, playing badminton or climbing hills, ” said Dr Goh.

When the movement control order (MCO) was imposed on March 18, most of us stayed home for close to two months.

When the conditional MCO came into force on May 4 and allowed small groups to enjoy outdoor activities, problems began happening.

Cyclists slogging uphill got SCA. Hikers too.

In an exclusive front page report on July 4, The Star highlighted this. We confirmed that at least four people died of SCA in Penang after they could finally enjoy the great outdoors again.

They used to hike or cycle regularly. But after so many weeks of being cooped up at home, their bodies lost their previous conditioning.

The CPR course I attended was organised shortly after The Star highlighted this predicament that even fit sports enthusiasts can suddenly find their hearts stopping.

Several avid cyclists in Penang are doctors and surgeons like Dr Goh, Datuk Dr Lim Seh Guan and Dr Francis Khoo, and they felt it a social duty to make sure that Penang outdoor lovers learn CPR.

Loh Guan Lye Specialists Centre provided the venue and trainers.

I felt privileged and fortunate to finally know how to do CPR.

We were taught to do chest-only CPR without mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or artificial ventilation.

Dr Goh said for the untrained rescuer, research shows that using chest-only CPR can result in a better chance of success. In the chaos and maybe near-panic situation, people may not get the ratio of chest compressions to rescue breaths right.

“Even without rescue breaths, studies have shown that when we do only chest compressions, a little air will move in and out of the victim’s lungs too. Not much but enough to keep the victim alive till the ambulance arrives, ” he told us.

CPR looks simple but knowing the finer points helps like making sure your elbows are locked straight so that all the momentum from your body will transfer to the victim’s chest.

Even handier was learning how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED). It is a simple device to give the victim an electric shock that will get the victim’s heart beating normally again, kind of like rebooting the heart.

There are now more than 50 AEDs in public places in Penang and quite a few more in factories and offices.

The AED is idiot-proof. The instructions are so simple but attending a course on using it really helps.

Did you know that if your victim has a hairy chest, you need to shave the hair off the spots where you need to stick the AED pads? Most AEDs come equipped with a shaver for that.

And if the victim is a woman, there are no two ways around it; you need to remove her upper clothing and even snip off the bra. No time for decency and decorum when you are saving her life.

If you hear of a CPR course happening near you, see if you can sign up for it.

You might be called upon to save someone some day.

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