Thursday, October 25, 2007

Teaching kids how to save lives... Subtitle: Does anyone remember what the principle export product is of Austria?

It was miserable last night - one of those foggy, drizzly nights when all I want to do is curl up in front of the fireplace with the family. But my schedule had me running from a cocktail party on 5th avenue honoring one of the true heroes of the public hospital system in NYC - LaRay Brown - to Marina Del Rey in the Bronx where Mt. Hope Housing Corporation was honoring Congressman Jose Serrano and State Senator Jose Marco Serrano Jr. I was 2 hours late and dinner had been served already. My table was all the way in the back and since I was quite late I walked right up to the front table where Jose Serrano was seated and kneeled down beside him. Not two minutes later Shaun Belle, President of Mt Hope housing grabbed me suddenly by the arm and pointed me to a woman at the next table over who was choking. The woman, formally dressed in her 30s was standing, grabbing her throat and a man behind her was trying to administer a Heimlich maneuver. He was unsuccessful. As I approached he moved away and I could easily see that the woman had an airway that was completely obstructed. She was struggling to breathe and tears were running down her cheeks. It took three tries for me to clear her obstruction with a properly (I guess) administered Heimlich.

So I went home and talked to my son Conor - 15 years old. Told him the story and watched him doing an English project. He was fascinated and surprised when I explained to him what happened. He had learned the exports of all the major countries in the world (who cares?), could name the capital of every state in the US (who cares?) but wasn't (and won't) be taught a simple technique that could, some day, help him save a life. Neither has he - or my other boys who are older - been taught anything about health (except for watching those old movies about "venereal disease") or the major diseases that effect Americans.

Today we sit in the center of epidemics of diseases that are related to health behaviors - what we eat, how we exercise (or don't as the case may be), how we use (or abuse ) substances such as alcohol and tobacco and medications. Shouldn't every child learn as much about their bodies as they learn about the planets? As much about maintaining healthy behaviors as about religion? As much about first aid and the many ways they can help in an emergency as about baseball or football?

The woman whose life I saved last night was lucky that a doctor was nearby. None of the other dozens of people who surrounded her knew what to do. Those that tried to help her failed because they were doing the Heimlich maneuver the wrong way. A tragedy was averted. But by too close a margin. If the traffic had been just a bit slower, if I had stopped for gas when the warning light went on on my dashboard, or sat at my table at the back of the banquet hall - the outcome might have been very different.

If we taught people in school adequately about first aid, health and disease, preventive care of themselves and their families - there might have been twenty other chances for her life to have been saved. Instead she was saved by good fortune and, perhaps, some intervention from above.

After the comment posted by Dr Eric Gayle below of the Institute for Family Health, I have added the following information on the Heimlich Maneuver - figures are from website. Learn these techniques and you may have the chance to save a life.

Figure 1. For Infants

Figure 2. For Children

Figure 3. For adults

Figure 4. You can also do a Heimlich Maneuver on yourself if you have some food lodged in your windpipe.

1 comment:

Dr. Gayle said...

Four weeks ago at a our Thanksgiving dinner , I met a new foster child of a friend of my family. My family drew his name to be his Kris Kringle, purchasing a gift for him to make Chistmas special for him. He died one week ago choking on food lodged in his airway. His foster parent(s) did not know how to perform simple maneuevers that would have helped if not saved his life.

It dawned on me that even as I am a physician, I had not taken the time to share some basic information that could be beneficial to my own family. No one else in my nuclear or extended family knows these simple manuevers that may help save someone's life, perhaps even my own or that of a family member. I am begining to change this in my household and family.

I would urge that anyone who knows the basic tenets of CPR and can teach it, do so for their family and their friends. Furthermore, I recommend that it is worth investing in clasess for at least one member of your family to learn these techniques.
I would support also that CPR classes be taught in school health education. These are techniques that are basic and would increase the possibility that someone in each household would have the knowledge to both recognize when someone is in need of help and to be able to also offer apporpriate help. This way more people can be taught these life saving techniques that could one day save your own life.