A team of emergency medical services at work, lifting an injured woman on a stretcher, to carry her away

Fear of performing CPR puts Canadians at risk

A recent study from Toronto’s RESCU research project indicated that many Canadians are still reluctant to act if they witness a cardiac arrest.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation wants Canadians to know that CPR has changed, and attitudes need to catch up.

Why are so many people still afraid to take action? This fear can be dismantled, bit by bit:


Fear of hurting the person

When a person suffers cardiac arrest they won’t survive unless they get CPR quickly (within the first few minutes). Their heart has stopped beating effectively and can no longer pump blood to the brain, lungs and other organs. You can’t hurt them, you can only help.


Fear of doing it wrong

CPR used to be complicated and hard to remember for many people.  What was it you learned as a teenager in swimming lessons … was it 15 compressions and 2 breaths? Or the other way around?

Forget all that. CPR today is not the CPR you learned in the past.

Hands-only CPR can be done by anyone, even if you have never taken a course. First, call 9-1-1. Next, place one hand over the other in the centre of the person’s chest and push hard and fast – think of the beat of Stayin’ Alive. Keep pushing until emergency medical help arrives.

Still unsure? Across the country emergency dispatchers are taking on new roles as CPR coaches. Call 9-1-1 and the dispatcher will tell you exactly what to do. You are not alone!


Fear of doing mouth to mouth on someone you don’t know

Feel a little squeamish at the thought of mouth to mouth contact? Don’t want to do it? Then don’t.

Mouth to mouth (or rescue) breathing is no longer automatically part of CPR, particularly for people who have never taken a CPR course. Don’t let this fear hold you back from pushing hard and fast on their chest.


Fear of using an AED

Most Canadians know what an automated external defibrillator (AED) is, but many say they would be afraid to use one. No need to be afraid! AEDs are simple to use, they have voice prompts that tell you exactly what to do and, most importantly, they will only deliver a shock if the person needs it. They will not do harm! If there is an AED nearby, don’t be afraid to use it.

Seeing a person collapse from cardiac arrest can be traumatic, especially if it is someone you know or care about. That’s why the Heart and Stroke Foundation is committed to making CPR easier to learn, easier to do, and more effective. When we released new Canadian guidelines late last year, we highlighted the important role the average Canadian can play in doubling or even tripling the chance of a person surviving, just by acting quickly.

Doing hands-only CPR, even if it isn’t perfect, gives that person their best chance.

If you want to learn more (and to get hands-on practice in doing CPR and using an AED) a simple 4-hour Heart & Stroke Heartsaver course can give you that. Courses are available in communities across the country through our network of 12,000+ instructors. Learn more at www.heartandstroke.ca/resuscitation

Taking action with simple CPR is crucially important because cardiac arrest happens nearly 40,000 times each year in Canada. The vast majority happen at home or in a public place. It is so common that it barely makes a ripple in the news, yet a growing number of Canadians are alive today because someone had the courage to do CPR and use an AED.

The fear Canadians should have is that if they ever witness a cardiac arrest, they let their fear hold them back.  When cardiac arrest happens, the biggest mistake you can make is to do nothing.



7 Responses

  1. Christians Reid

    I performed CPR on an elderly lady lying on a sidewalk beside her walker. This occurred less than 6 days after passing the course. Everything they taught me was in my head, including “if you don’t break ribs, you’re likely not doing it right”.
    I was yelled at by passerbys for moving someone that had fallen, she was dressed for winter scarf hat etc. The wind was blowing and there was no easy way to listen for breathes like they teach you in class.
    When I positioned her neck, her false teeth came loose, of which I had to manually remove. As I performed CPR with the audience building, no one offered to help other than calling 911. The ambulance arrived and I heard the attendant say VSA, he asked me to continue while they set up and I did, even though VSA means vital signs absent.
    The attendants put the lady on the gurney and off they went. The crowd dispursed. I was left holding her teeth, her walker and her mail that’s she looked to be out for a walk mailing. I walked over to the police officer and said here are her items and I got in my car and cried for about 30 minutes.

    as traumatizing as the whole situation was, and the scenerios didn’t mimic training 100% . I wasn’t successful in saving that woman’s life. But I tried, and that’s I could do.

    When ever I take CPR training I tell the trainer I’m 0 for 1 and I will keep trying regardless of the score that is someone’s mother, sister, grandmother, friend and I know I’d want someone to do it for someone I know.

    1. Sharon Hollingsworth

      Christians, thank you so much for sharing this experience with us here at Heart and Stroke. I understand how badly you must have felt at the time, when despite your quick action, the woman died. But good for you not to let it discourage you from trying again if the situation presents itself, because the reality is that if someone has a cardiac arrest, their chance of survival is doubled when early CPR is used in combination with an AED. Again, thank you for reaching out and for taking the time to read the Heart and Stroke blog. Sincerely, Sharon at Heart and Stroke

  2. Ethige de silva

    Hi, The main reason, I would say, is the fear of legal implications, after acting upon it. That is what I have heard from my friends and sometimes even from trainers, according to the same sources.

      1. Sharon Hollingsworth

        Hi Cara – thanks for the comment! You are correct about the Chase McEachern Act but it only applies to the province of Ontario. The other Canadian provinces do have their own versions of Good Samaritan Acts however, that protect bystanders from \liability when performing CPR and/or applying an AED on a person who is unresponsive. Thanks again for taking the time to comment on this important matter, Cara – hope you have a wonderful day! Sharon at Heart & Stroke

  3. Name*

    I performed CPR on a coworker several years ago. All the items you mentioned went through my head. I told myself it can’t get worse than it is right now. I too worried
    about doing everything correctly but again
    told myself I had to do the best job I could do. Myself and other coworkers used the defib machine in our workplace and I
    am happy to say that we were
    successful . Our coworker survived, returned to work and has recently retired. I
    Am very proud of myself that I was brave enough to help someone in need I encourage others to do the same.

    1. Sharon Hollingsworth

      Good morning! Just a quick note to say thanks for sharing your heart-warming story on the Heart and Stroke blog. We are so happy that you and your co-workers jumped in so quickly and saved your colleague because of your knowledge of CPR and the availability of an AED in the workplace. Well done – you are an inspiration to those who may not feel comfortable applying their knowledge in these situations. But in cases like these, a person’s chance of survival is doubled when early CPR is used in combination with an AED.
      So if someone suddenly collapses or is unresponsive, a bystander can save their life using their phone, their hands and their wits. Good for you for not hesitating – because you understood that you can’t hurt, you can only help. Thanks again for weighing in – and best wishes for a happy and healthy Thanksgiving weekend! Sincerely, Sharon at Heart and Stroke

We welcome your comments on our posts, but ask that you refrain from using profanity and remain courteous and respectful of others' opinions. The Heart and Stroke Foundation reserves the right to remove any comments that are not in compliance with this policy.

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