Doc Talk: Why You Should Learn CPR

By Alan Nager, M.D., M.H.A


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The 2-year-old male was eating grapes when he began to choke. Choking is a common hazard for this age group, and can cause cardiac arrest (when the heart suddenly stops beating), brain damage and death.

Fortunately, by the time this boy reached the emergency department his mother had already saved his life. She cleared his airway and performed CPR until help arrived.

This is an essential skill for a parent to learn, and you are more likely to need it than you might think. When kids have a cardiac arrest, it isn’t usually a primary cardiac event, meaning it is not due to a defect in the heart or a heart condition. It is often caused by an asthma attack, car accident, poisoning, a blow to the head, choking or – especially in summer – a drowning.

If one of these things happens to your child and she or he stops breathing, the first four minutes are crucial, because leaving the brain without oxygen for that amount of time can lead to brain damage and death. Depending on where you live, if you do nothing but call 9-1-1, it could take several minutes for help to arrive. But if you understand how to perform CPR, by the time the ambulance arrives, you could already have saved your child.

At Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, we are studying a tool that makes it convenient for parents to learn CPR. The American Heart Association and Laerdal have created a kit with a small inflatable mannequin and a 20-minute instructional video that fit into a shoebox. It’s called CPR Anytime. We are taking advantage of time parents of infants spend waiting in the emergency department to teach them the most important thing, to save a life. For the next six to eight months, we will be enrolling parents and hoping to learn whether our waiting room is a good place for them to learn CPR.

You can purchase a CPR Anytime kit for $38.50 from, and learn this life-saving skill on your own. There are also CPR classes available in most communities. And learning CPR isn’t just important for parents. It is important for grandparents, babysitters, nannies, relatives and anyone who will be spending time with your child.

Summer is here. Accidents are the leading cause of death in kids under 14. Let’s hope you never need to use it, but why take a chance with your child’s life?

Alan L. Nager, M.D., M.H.A., has been Director of Emergency and Transport Medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for the past 18 years, and is a professor of Pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.

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