By Alson S. Inaba, M.D.
An ordinary man sang for a stranger’s life —and saved it by using a simple CPR technique I came up with to help more people save more lives.
Tom Maimone, 52, suddenly collapsed in a driveway in Delray, Fla., in April 2009. Tom Elowson, who came across Maimone’s crumpled body, didn’t hesitate to get involved. While other bystanders called 9-1-1, Elowson recognized that Maimone was in cardiac arrest, pushed hard and fast on Maimone’s chest, and hummed a familiar tune:
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive. Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive.
Elowson had learned my technique from watching a demo on a morning news program. Why “Stayin’ Alive”? We wanted to get the word out that pushing hard and fast on the center on the chest to the beat of the song the Bee Gees made famous in the 1970s classic movie “Saturday Night Fever” could give a victim of sudden cardiac arrest a fighting chance.
Paramedics arrived a few minutes later, and after a couple of shocks with an AED, Maimone regained consciousness. At the hospital, he received a stent for a blockage in his coronary artery. Soon after, he walked out of the hospital. Maimone says he got a new birthday that day, thanks to the heroic efforts of a stranger. I desperately wish more people knew how easy it is to give people that second chance at life. Watch an animation of a stent.
Cardiac arrest, the abrupt loss of heart function, happens more often than you probably think. If you see someone who is unresponsive and not breathing normally, just calling 9-1-1 and waiting for help isn’t enough. By the time paramedics arrive, the chance of survival is often zero. The victim will probably die or only survive with severe brain damage.
The Stayin’ Alive CPR technique came to life because I needed a way to emphasize the importance of CPR and early AED use to my students. In a skit, a student suddenly collapsed — then a group of residents sporting dark glasses, gold chains and a boom box blaring “Stayin’ Alive” rushed to perform CPR.
I realized the song had at least 100 beats per minute — the same rate the American Heart Association recommends for CPR chest compressions. This could be the perfect teaching tool!
Students practiced on manikins, and before long, they were humming and strutting and releasing their inner John Travolta. After the word started getting out, I was shocked to hear from people from around the world, including Elowson and Maimone. They’ve proven that you really can save someone’s life with immediate bystander Hands-Only CPR. It can double or triple a victim’s chance of survival from sudden cardiac arrest.
If you’re unwilling or unable to do conventional CPR (which involves both chest compressions and rescue breaths), call 9-1-1 and push hard and fast in the center of the victim’s chest at a rate of at least 100 compressions a minute. Sing “Stayin’ Alive” (or have someone nearby do it) to help you stay on track.
If you have not been trained in conventional CPR, Hands-Only CPR can buy critical time until the paramedics arrive with an AED to shock the victim’s heart into its normal rhythm. And it’s the reason Tom Maimone is alive.
Remember: You’re not going to make things worse by jumping in to help. The victim has already died. You can learn Hands-Only CPR by watching this one-minute video . It’s simple. It saves lives. And you can do it. And that’s something to sing about.
Alson S. Inaba, M.D., is division head of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children in Honolulu.
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- Taking Care of Yourself After a Cardiac Event
This content last reviewed March 2017.