by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Leon Roberts isn’t a doctor, but he speaks from experience when he offers some medical advice.
“If anybody asks, I would suggest not having a heart attack,” he said.
Roberts, archdiocesan consultant for real estate and construction, was talking work with a contractor at St. James Academy in Lenexa in 2009 — until suddenly, he wasn’t.
“It’s like the light switch had been turned off,” said Roberts.
The atrial fibrillation that caused his heart muscles to quiver instead of contract nearly claimed his life.
“They had to perform CPR on me three times and use the AED (automated external defibrillator) on me three times to get me back to some stable semblance of heart rhythm and breathing,” said Roberts.
He knows he wouldn’t be here to talk about it if the people around him hadn’t had the courage to leap into action.
So when the archdiocese offered chancery office staff the opportunity to learn hands-only CPR July 16 and 17 at Savior
Pastoral Center in Kansas City, Kan., Roberts — who has had prior training in the traditional form of CPR — jumped at the opportunity.
“I went because I know it worked on me and I felt an obligation to have that knowledge so I might be able to help somebody else,” he said.
And with hands- only CPR, there’s no need to breathe into someone else’s mouth or keep track of breath and compression ratios, which could cause some bystanders to hesitate.
All it requires is fast and continuous chest compressions — 100 beats per minute, like to the beat of the Bee Gees’ song “Stayin’ Alive” — until medical help arrives.
The Kansas City Kansas Fire Department and the University of Kansas Hospital launched a joint effort for HEARTSafe Community designation for the area on Jan. 17.
Training people to perform hands-only CPR during this year is part of it.
By mid-July, more than 4,500 people had been trained through the courses, which are not certification courses, but, rather, a lesson in simple steps that can make a real difference when the clock is ticking.
Sarah Tufty, training instructor with the Kansas City, Kansas Fire Department, emphasized that dead heart muscle can’t be restored, so quick action is key to keep blood flowing to the heart.
It starts with checking on the person who has collapsed.
Don’t be shy or gentle, said Tufty, adding that you really want to shake the person, see if they’re breathing or if there’s “agonal breathing,” which is labored breathing or gasping, and yell,
“Hey, hey, are you OK?”
If they don’t respond, call 911 immediately to get emergency medical personnel on the way fast.
Next, interlock your hands.
“The heel of your hand is going to go in the center of the chest, the lower half of the breastbone,” said Tufty.
And then come the compressions — 100 per minute, two inches deep into the chest, until the fire department or ambulance arrives.
Calling 911 instead of trying to drive someone to the hospital saves precious time because crews can determine whether this is a heart attack, give medications and alert the hospital to the patient’s arrival, explained Tufty.
Tufty — just as Roberts advised — stresses the importance of keeping hearts healthy in the first place.
While no one can control factors such as age, genetics and prior heart attacks, many other health factors weigh into the equation — smoking habits, exercise habits, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and diabetes.
“Know your body. Know your norm. Know what’s normal for you,” said Tufty.
Some of the textbook signs of a heart attack include chest pain or tightness, pain in the left arm, jaw pain, back or neck pain, sweating, nausea and vomiting.
But symptoms can differ or seem vague. Women often complain of fatigue so intense they feel as if they’re walking through wet cement and can’t take another step, said Tufty.
Jerilyn Rodgers, chest pain program coordinator for the University of Kansas Hospital, wants people to recognize early signs of a problem and get checked out right away — to try to get help before it becomes an emergency.
If walking up a flight of stairs used to be no problem and now you can’t catch your breath and don’t know why, that could signal trouble, she said.
“We don’t want people to wait until they need hands-only CPR,” said Tufty.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans every year, she said.
Each year, 1.2 million Americans have a heart attack, and 600,000 die of their cardiac event — half before they make it to the emergency room, she told the group.
In its effort to be designated a HEARTSafe community, the program is working to reduce those numbers and increase CPR efforts by bystanders.
Another part of the HEARTSafe efforts focuses on also increasing the number of AEDs in the community. In her demonstration, Tufty also showed how to use that device if one is available, and how to use it in conjunction with chest compressions.
Roberts takes comfort in knowing that his colleagues know where the AEDs are located within the church offices and that people pay attention to how others are doing.
He would make every effort to help if he came across someone in a cardiac crisis and encouraged everyone to be trained in what to do should the need arise.
“As far as I was concerned, God put the right people with the right knowledge at the right time to help me,” he said. “The more people that know it, they become for others, the right person at the right time.”