Are you capable of saving a life?

Have you ever been in a situation in which someone grabs his/her chest and complains of having trouble breathing? Suppose someone begins gasping for breath in your presence? Would you know what to do? I don’t mean dialing 911, which is probably a good idea too, but in addition, what would you do in the interim?

Perhaps the person is beginning to faint in front of you as they slowly lower themselves to the floor. You’re the only one in the vicinity close enough to make a difference. They’re looking at you for help and they’re starting to get pale and lose consciousness. The next few seconds may determine whether they live or die. Surely, you want to come to their rescue, but are you capable of keeping them breathing until professional assistance arrives?

Those are not the type of questions you want to be torturing yourself with for years if you fail to take action and the person dies. The fact is that very few people would know what to do even if they had the courage to intervene during such a medical emergency.

It might be useful to think of the foregoing situation with the added component being that the person in distress is your spouse, your child, or another close family member.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is an emergency procedure, performed in an effort to manually preserve brain function without damage until further measures are taken to restore spontaneous blood circulation and breathing in a person in cardiac arrest. It is indicated in those who are unresponsive, with no breathing, or the type of abnormal breathing that is characterized by gasping, guttural sounds and accompanied by strange vocalizations.

CPR involves chest compressions at least 5 centimeters (about 2 inches) deep and at a rate of at least 100 per minute in an effort to create artificial circulation by manually pumping blood through the heart. In addition, the rescuer may provide breaths by either exhaling into the subject’s mouth or nose or utilizing a device that pushes air into the subject’s lungs. This process of externally providing ventilation is termed artificial respiration. Current recommendations place emphasis on high-quality chest compressions over artificial respiration; a simplified CPR method involving chest compressions only is recommended for untrained rescuers.

Police and fire departments train their personnel to use these temporary methods until emergency equipment, operated by experienced technicians, can be dispatched to the scene. One of those emergency procedures involves electric shock, known as defibrillation, which can be administered to the subject’s chest in order to restore a viable heart rhythm.

Keep in mind, CPR alone is unlikely to restart the heart; its main purpose is to restore partial flow of oxygenated blood to the brain and heart. The objective is to delay tissue death and to extend the brief window of opportunity for a successful resuscitation without permanent brain damage.  The procedure is generally continued until the patient has a return of spontaneous circulation, or is declared dead.

The Flower Mound Fire Department conducts Heart-saver CPR training for the public to learn the emergency procedure. For a small fee of $30 you can learn the basics of infant, child, and adult CPR in one 9 am to Noon session and earn a CPR card that’s good for 2 years. This training does not lead to certification, which requires additional and more complex instruction. The next regularly scheduled CPR training course is May 4, but you must register by May 1.  You can receive further info on this at the Flower Mound website:

I was only called upon twice to use this procedure, and those were during my former life as a police officer. In one case, a middle-aged man was kept breathing until an emergency unit arrived and took over for me. In another case, I got there too late to save a man in his late-thirties who suffered severe loss of breath during an intense outdoor basketball game in the middle of a very hot summer. The other players just stood around helplessly as their friend gasped for air. It wasn’t their fault; they were like most people faced with a desperate situation they’re not trained for, they call the police. But, those critical moments, between the time an emergency occurs and the time help arrives, are the difference between life and death.

Would you invest $30 and 3 hours of your time to learn enough to possibly save a loved one’s life? Without question, it would be the best investment you ever made.

Bob Weir is a long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor.


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