CPR First Aid | A fun, intense way for professional lifesavers to sharpen their skills

Here’s what happened:

You ran into Michael Jordan, the pride of North Carolina, at a casino. Now he is in cardiac arrest. You have four minutes to save him.

Can you do it? In 3, 2, 1 … CPR!

That was the situation given to Paul Nowell and his team of paramedics from Northampton County, North Carolina. It was the start of Day 2 of the EMS World Expo in Las Vegas and the group was at the American Heart Association’s booth for a second and final attempt to showcase their lifesaving skills in the High-Quality CPR Challenge.

The event is a fun, lively competition held at healthcare conferences, like this one for emergency medical service personnel and another for nurses.

These trained professionals test their ability to work as a team to provide emergency treatment to someone who has collapsed and needs resuscitation.

It’s fun because everyone knows it is for training. Beyond the faux situation, there’s the setting: a booth in an exhibit hall customized to evoke a pit stop at a car racing event. The tie-in works because of the similarity in the need for speed, precision and teamwork in high-risk, high-consequences environment.

But make no mistake – this is a serious competition.

The lure is not the prizes. All that’s available are plastic trophies for the top three teams, none bigger than a Big Gulp cup. The intensity comes from the challenge itself: Competitive people trying to prove how good they are at a task in which every second could mean the difference between life and death.

That passion for perfection is what brought Nowell and crew to the booth for another try.

On Day 1, their squad, the “Northampton Paramagic,” scored a 93. Later that night and the next morning, they talked over how they could be better. They showed up at the booth eager to see if they were, and curious how they would stack up with everyone else.

Nowell and four others rushed to their places, surrounding the lifeless “Michael Jordan” in an arc from hip to hip around his head.

The two guys on either side of the ribs handled chest compressions. Two guys near the head were in charge of ventilation. Nowell was near the head, too, overseeing everything and manning the defibrillator.

The guy on the right side began compressions while his counterpart on the left watched and waited. Nowell placed two wired pads on the chest, connecting it to the defibrillator. About every six seconds, the ventilation tandem did their thing – one guy squeezing a bag, the other keeping the mask firmly in place and the head tilted to ensure air flowing directly into the lungs.

“Clear,” Nowell announced, alerting everyone he was about to press the shock button on the defibrillator. The others cleared from the body for their safety while the jolt was delivered. When they resumed compressions, the guy on the left took over compressions and the original pusher rested.

“Watch the recoil,” Nowell said gently. “Doing good. Recoil is good, rate is good.”

At the two-minute mark, Nowell fired the defibrillator again and the original guy doing compressions took over again.

Anyone can be a lifesaver. If you see someone suddenly collapse and they are unresponsive and not breathing normally, push hard and fast in the center of their chest. Better still, do it to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive” as the aptly named disco song happens to provide perfect timing for Hands-Only CPR.

Even a poor attempt improves a patient’s odds of survival. Of course, doing it with proper technique drastically raises those odds. The better the technique, the better the odds.

This is why trained professionals constantly refine their skills. Much like baseball players taking batting practice before every game, paramedics often practice CPR before their shifts.

To improve patient outcomes, the American Heart Association began a campaign in 2013 for high-quality CPR by healthcare providers. Going beyond brochures or seminars, AHA leaders came up with this event, which often goes by the informal name of “CPR Throwdown.”

“By doing this, not only are they having some fun being competitive, they’re really getting some valuable information on how they can do better high-quality CPR,” said Mark Venuti, one of the judges at this year’s event and the director of Guardian Medical Transport at the Flagstaff Medical Center in Arizona.