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Posted by By Kasey Chronis September 7, 2023 on Sep 11th 2023

Chicago doctors defend CPR's role in saving lives amid safety concern

Chicago doctors defend CPR's role in saving lives amid safety concern
As football season kicks off for another year, some Chicago doctors are speaking out about recent reports regarding the safety of CPR.

It was Jan. 2 when football fans held their collective breath as Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin dropped to the ground following a blow to his chest during a game.

Six months later, college basketball fans were in shock as Bronny James, son of NBA superstar LeBron James, suddenly collapsed during practice. Doctors say both received CPR as part of the medical treatment immediately administered to them on the field.

Did this procedure help or hurt them? Recent online reports say CPR can do more harm than good.

Just six weeks after that heart-stopping moment, Hamlin was back on the field thanking his fans and the first responders who treated him. His doctors have now cleared him to play football this season.

As for Bronny James, he is out of the hospital. A family spokesperson says he is on track to make a full recovery as well as a return to the court.

"We’re arguing that these articles that were written - which have a good point - are in very specific circumstances, not for the Damar Hamlin’s or the Bronny James," said Dr. Stuart Berger, cardiologist and executive director of Lurie Children’s Heart Center.

"So I think the main thing to bring out is there are certain circumstances where CPR might not be done. CPR can certainly have effects that may not be the effects that you expect, but in a situation of sudden cardiac arrest where you want to get survival, the only way to get survival is with CPR and an AED."

Berger says it’s important for critically ill patients of all ages to talk with their doctors about whether they want to have CPR or other life-saving measures included in their care. Those are the cases where potentially harmful consequences of CPR could happen, like broken bones.

"But for the rest of us, for the person walking down Chicago Avenue where there may be a sudden cardiac arrest - for the most part - intervening is going to be the only way to get survival," Berger said.

Berger knows bones can also break when doing CPR on the average person and that’s one reason why many of us are afraid to do it.

"I would tell you broken ribs and a fractured sternum are uncommon - not unheard of - but the alternative of death is certainly what you would have. If you didn’t do CPR and use the AED," Berger said.

This is why he’s concerned about recent online stories regarding how safe is CPR.

"I think my concern is that there will be lives that are lost because people will be afraid to intervene," Berger said.

Dr. Bryan Smith has the same concerns about these recent stories. He’s a cardiologist at University of Chicago Medicine and a board member for the American Heart Association.

"In this country, there are 350,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests that happen every year. The issue is only 10% of those are successfully resuscitated," Smith said.

Smith adds that 70% of those cases happen at home and 60% of the time, those who see it do nothing.

"Meaning no one does CPR, or they do CPR ineffectively, or they don’t call for help in time," Smith said.

"So really the problem is we need to make sure people understand what CPR is. Understand when to use it. Because by doing CPR in those cases, we can double or triple the chance of survival," he added.

In the last few years, Smith says more of us have shown an interest in learning CPR, and it continues to grow after we watched what happened to Hamlin and James.

"Now that it’s much simpler, I think people should feel much more comfortable in performing CPR when necessary," Smith said.

Smith says mouth-to-mouth resuscitation was dropped from CPR about five years ago and the main components now are using an AED and hands-only chest compressions.

Since Hamlin’s cardiac arrest eight months ago, the Smart Heart Sports Coalition was formed. It’s a joint partnership between several major sports leagues, including the NFL, the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross.

It’s working to see all 50 states follow evidence-based policies that will prevent fatal outcomes from sudden cardiac arrest among high school students, which includes CPR. Something that Smith says helped save Hamlin.

"It absolutely saved his life," Smith said.

The Smart Heart Sports Coalition is also pushing for high school coaches to know how to do CPR and use an AED.

In June, the IHSA made it a requirement for coaches in Illinois to undergo this training on a regular basis.