Lifesaving Power is in Your Hands

Dr. Holly Andersen, an attending cardiologist at NewYork-Presbyterian, spearheads the #HandsOnlyCPR campaign to save lives.

The statistics are sobering.

Cardiac arrest kills one person every two minutes in the U.S. Seventy percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur at home, with almost 20 percent occurring in a public setting, according to the American Heart Association. And without CPR, 92 percent of those experiencing cardiac arrest die before making it to the hospital. Every minute without CPR decreases the survival rate by 7 to 10 percent.

As director of education and outreach at the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute and a leading heart-health advocate, NewYork-Presbyterian’s Dr. Holly Andersen, a preventive cardiologist, is all too familiar with these numbers. But the disease has also affected her personally. In 2010, her older brother, Scott Andersen, suffered cardiac arrest at home, having just returned from coaching his son’s soccer game. He died at age 50 and left behind three children.

Driven by her desire to save lives like his, Dr. Andersen, a clinical associate professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at Weill Cornell Medicine, spearheaded the #HandsOnlyCPR campaign. Its message: More lives can be saved with hands-only CPR, a technique that takes less than a minute to learn and can double or triple a person’s chances of survival.

“As long as I have been a cardiologist, it’s frustrated me how we lose people to sudden cardiac death because no one knows what to do and no one responds,” she says. “People freeze.”

“Action will save a life,” she continues. “With inaction, people die needlessly.”

The campaign, launched June 1, 2017, by NewYork-Presbyterian and the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute, came on the heels of a 2015 Institute of Medicine report that found that decreasing the time between cardiac arrest onset and the first chest compressions was critical in increasing the odds of survival. Faster response by bystanders would result in higher survival rates and better neurological outcomes, the report states. Now, the City of New York, the New York City Health Department, and the New York chapter of the American Heart Association have joined the campaign. A new public service announcement, “It’s Sexy to Save a Life,” featuring the Tony award-winning cast of Chicago demonstrating the technique, began running in New York City cabs, and free public demonstrations were held across the five boroughs.

“New York City is proud to do its part to share Hands Only CPR with our fellow New Yorkers,” says First Lady Chirlane McCray. “New Yorkers take action! The resources and know-how in this campaign can empower everyone to save a life and make our City a safer place.”

Unlike heart attacks, cardiac arrests — which occur when electrical activity to the heart fails, resulting in an almost instantaneous loss of consciousness — rarely exhibit early warning signs. Immediate intervention is a matter of life or death.

“In New York City, it’s especially challenging because of high-rises and traffic,” says Dr. Andersen. “The average standard for help to arrive countrywide is eight minutes, and we were, in 2015, nine minutes and 18 seconds. We are challenged here.”

The good news is that it takes only three steps to begin saving a life. First, check to see if the person is breathing, then call 911. Next, lay the victim flat on the ground and kneel beside the person. Third, interlock your fingers, and use the heel of your palm to push down in the center of the chest. Do this by locking your arms so they are straight and push hard and fast, making two compressions per second at least two inches deep.

An easy way to remember this:

  • CHECK to see if the person is breathing.
  • Quickly CALL for help.
  • Then immediately begin CHEST compressions.

In an effort to prevent cardiac arrest deaths, NewYork-Presbyterian and the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute and Dr. Andersen have created an instructional video that can be shared with the caption “#ICanSaveALife with #HandsOnlyCPR.” The tag @HandsOnlyCPR also has been created to allow participants in the campaign to post photos of themselves doing the hands-only CPR pose — hands clasped and fingers extended outward — on Instagram and Facebook.

“My primary goal is to get people who aren’t certified in CPR to act,” says Dr. Andersen. “You don’t have to use mouth-to-mouth. It’s better to do something than nothing.”

“You can save a life,” she says.


By the Numbers

  • More than 356,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur annually in the United States.
  • 72 percent of Americans feel helpless to act during a cardiac emergency because they don’t know how to administer CPR or they’re afraid of hurting the victim.
  • 90 percent of people who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrest die because they don’t receive immediate CPR from someone on the scene.