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Of the 300,000 Americans a year who suffer cardiac arrests outside of hospitals, fewer than 8 percent survive. The American Heart Association says the percentage could improve dramatically if more of us knew what to do right away.
Step 1: Know the Signs
"The person will collapse, lose consciousness, turn very pale, and won't be moving or breathing," says Vinay Nadkarni, MD, of the AHA.
Step 2: Call 911
If you're with other people, one of you should call 911 while the other starts the next step.
Step 3: Use a Defibrillator
If you're in a public place or office that has an automated external defibrillator (AED), use it immediately. "These devices deliver a shock that restarts the heart's normal electrical activity, and some are simple enough to use without medical training," says Dr. Nadkarni. "The device won't work if it detects a heartbeat, so there's no risk involved." Once you turn it on, the AED's voice commands will take you through the process step by step.
Step 4: Start CPR
Do this immediately if you don't have a defibrillator. Even if you've never taken a course you can still perform this lifesaving move. Place the heel of one hand in the center of the victim's chest, then place your other hand over the other and push down firmly. "The most effective rate is 100 compressions per minute -- the same rhythm as the beat of the Bee Gee's song 'Stayin' Alive,'" says Dr. Nadkarni. If you'd like to get certified, you can find a CPR class at americanheart.org/cpr.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, March 2009.