Learn to Save a Life with Hands-Only CPR

Without swift intervention, sudden cardiac arrest can be deadly. Hands-only CPR can double or triple a victim’s chances of recovery.

7:00 AM

Author | Jane Racey Gleeson


When someone experiences sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), the heart stops beating, often without warning.

MORE FROM MICHIGAN: Sign up for our weekly newsletter

SCA can happen anytime, anywhere and to anyone often active, healthy people with no known medical conditions. In most cases, it is fatal.

"When a person goes into cardiac arrest, they have essentially died," says Teri Shields, R.N., a nurse at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center. "Their only chance of recovery is CPR and the shock from an automated external defibrillator, or AED."

It's why Shields is passionate about training others in the hands-on technique, a critical way to help get oxygenated blood to the organs especially the brain.

"A person giving CPR takes over the function of the heart muscle to pump blood," Shields says.

According to the American Heart Association, performing hands-only CPR at a brisk, steady pace (the tempo of the classic disco song "Stayin' Alive" is recommended) can double or even triple a victim's chance of survival.

Approximately 85 percent of cardiac arrests happen outside the hospital, so the more people who know how to perform CPR, the better.

Says Shields: "Chances are, you could be saving the life of someone you know and love."

Breaking down barriers

Many people are hesitant to perform CPR, even though the American Heart Association reports that hands-only CPR a process that involves hard and fast chest compressions with interlaced hands has proved to be as effective as conventional CPR (compressions and mouth-to-mouth breathing) for cardiac arrest.

SEE ALSO: 6 Reasons Schools Need to Run AED Drills

Still, bystanders might fear causing further harm or failing to perform CPR properly, says Shields.

"Some are afraid of being sued, although this fear is unfounded because of protection offered by Good Samaritan laws in the majority of states, including Michigan," Shields says.

One important finding from recent studies suggests more people are willing to perform hands-only CPR if an emergency dispatcher guides them over the telephone, Shields says. 

Others might not know the warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest or how to react.  

"A person in cardiac arrest can mimic someone having a seizure," says Eugene Chung, M.D., a Michigan Medicine electrophysiologist and sports cardiologist. "A bystander may not know how to perform CPR or they may think CPR still involves mouth-to-mouth breathing."

They may also assume that adolescents or athletes aren't at risk.

"A cardiac arrest doesn't immediately come to mind with a young person performing at such a high level," Chung says. "But a cardiac arrest should be presumed in these cases, with CPR administered immediately, along with an AED. There is no time to lose."

Michigan Medicine emergency medicine specialist Robert Neumar, M.D., reinforces that notion: "The sooner chest compressions are started, the more effective they are. Every second counts. Recognizing cardiac arrest immediately and acting quickly will maximize the chances of saving a life."

Strength in numbers

Shields and Neumar are passionate about educating others in administering CPR and using an AED. Both are pioneers in the SaveMiHeart initiative, which brings together leaders and volunteers committed to improving outcomes for victims of cardiac arrest.

SaveMiHeart, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Health, the American Heart Association, the University of Michigan, Wayne State University and others, is promoting HEARTSafe Communities an effort to increase survival from sudden cardiac arrest by helping communities improve their system of care. 

High schools are also getting on board. In January, the Michigan Legislature passed a bill requiring that all Michigan high school students receive training in CPR and AED usage through a Basic Life Support class.

As a result, approximately 100,000 new "rescuers" will be added to Michigan's CPR-certified population each year, a boost that could raise survival rates for sudden cardiac arrest victims.

"This increase in the number of trained rescuers in Michigan will surely save lives," Shields says.


More Articles About: Preventative health and wellness Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) Sudden Cardiac Arrest First Aid & Safety
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

Explore a variety of healthcare news & stories by visiting the Health Lab home page for more articles.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine

[email protected]


Stay Informed

Want top health & research news weekly? Sign up for Health Lab’s newsletters today!

Featured News & Stories Exterior photograph of an urgent care clinic
Health Lab
Thinking outside the doctor’s office: How older adults use urgent care & in-store clinics
In the past two years, 60% of people age 50 to 80 have visited an urgent care clinic, or a clinic based in a retail store, workplace or vehicle, according to new findings from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging.
Adult performs CPR on a young athlete, illustration with red and blue figures
Health Lab
Sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes: 5 things parents should know
Sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes: 5 things parents should know
Drawing of parent trying to get child's attention who is listening to music on headphones
Health Lab
Are headphones and earbuds exposing your children to noise health risks?
2 in 3 parents in national poll say their child ages 5-12 use personal audio devices; pediatrician offers 4 tips to reduce noise exposure risks
blue image person reaching
Health Lab
Reenergizing hospital staff through interactive recharge rooms 
The Flourish recharge room, an innovative gift given to Michigan Medicine, provides staff with a transformative and healing experience.
Colorful painting of two heads
Health Lab
Bipolar disorder linked to early death more than smoking
People with bipolar disorder have a higher risk of early death than people who smoke, and more efforts to improve detection and care are needed.
article on phone being read by person
Health Lab
The most popular articles of 2023
With over 400 stories published on Health Lab in 2023, the following 10 articles were the most read of the year.