FMC: In honor of National Heart Month you can help improve cardiac arrest survival rates

On Jan. 2, football fans across the country watched in disbelief as Damar Hamlin, a seemingly healthy 24-year-old safety for the Buffalo Bills, collapsed on the field seconds after standing up from a tackle. Emergency medical personnel immediately jumped into action, performing CPR on Hamlin for over nine minutes before restoring the young athlete’s heartbeat – and ultimately saving his life. It was soon confirmed that Hamlin had collapsed as a result of cardiac arrest, which is when the heart abruptly stops beating due to an electrical malfunction within the body. Cardiac arrest occurs without warning and is often fatal; if not for the lifesaving efforts of those who rushed to Hamlin’s side that evening, he would have likely died within minutes.

While Hamlin was fortunate that a medical team was nearby when he collapsed, the reality is that many instances of cardiac arrest occur in the presence of bystanders who do not have medical training. Equipping non-medical individuals with the knowledge they need to jump in and begin performing hands-only CPR and use an AED until emergency crews arrive on scene is the goal of Community Heart Watch, a local committee that is comprised of business leaders, educators, EMS personnel and staff members from Fairfield Medical Center. Community Heart Watch annually trains more than 10,000 people in CPR, and has improved AED accessibility by placing more than 400 devices in local schools, businesses, parks and other public venues.

Performing CPR and using an AED can be daunting for someone who has never done it before. Bystanders may worry that they will cause further harm to the person by performing CPR incorrectly or not knowing how to operate the AED. Many bystanders also are unaware of Good Samaritan laws, which protect individuals who step in and assist victims during an emergency situation from being sued. The training provided by Community Heart Watch is designed to ease those fears through education and hands on instruction; trainees are taught how to perform hands-only CPR, which doesn’t involve mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and is just as effective as conventional CPR for the first five minutes following the victim’s collapse. Trainees are also given step-by-step instruction on how to operate an AED.

“When someone experiences cardiac arrest, the truth is that you cannot harm them further by performing CPR because the person is technically not even alive at that point,” said Dr. John Lazarus, an interventional cardiologist with Fairfield Medical Center and a Clinical Chair with Community Heart Watch. “When someone’s heart stops, blood cannot be circulated to vital organs such as the brain. Performing chest compressions helps to keep the patient’s organs oxygenated long enough for EMS personnel to get to the scene. This is why bystander intervention is so critically important.”

This February, in honor of National Heart Month, you can help improve cardiac arrest survival rates and make your community more heart safe by doing the following:

  • Learn hands-only CPR: The Community Heart Watch CPR mobile training unit will be traveling to events throughout the region this spring and summer to offer free instruction. Full CPR certification classes are also offered through Fairfield Medical Center. To learn more, contact FMC community educator Resa Tobin at

  • Encourage your workplace to become heart safe: Businesses, schools and parks can all be accredited as “Heart Safe” through Community Heart Watch. All entities must undergo CPR training for their entire staff and meet specific criteria to become accredited. Start the process by contacting Teri Watson at or 740-687-6929.

  • Check your surroundings for AEDs: Does your workplace, church or favorite hangout have an AED? If not, Community Heart Watch can help you find one that meets your needs. Already have an AED? Download PulsePoint, a free app that maps the location of AEDs in your community. By logging the location of your AED in the map, you can help EMS and members of the general public quickly locate the closest AED in the event of an emergency.

This article originally appeared on Lancaster Eagle-Gazette: FMC: In honor of National Heart Month you can help improve cardiac arrest survival rates