Could you save your friend with CPR if you had to?

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Sure, I took a CPR class once upon a time in high school. But if a coworker or friend or stranger collapsed next to me due to heart complications, I’d have no clue what to do beyond calling 911.

Could I save them?

That question was seared into my brain during the American Heart Association’s annual Go Red for Women Luncheon Thursday. I was digging a fork into my salad when the woman seated across from me told me she is a 37-year-old heart survivor. A year ago, Elizabeth Shulenberger was working out (as usual) and thought she had pulled a muscle in her arm. Until it started radiating a burning sensation into her chest.

The next day she found out she had a coronary artery tear and, to this day, does not know the cause. She’s growing stronger thanks to cardiac rehabilitation.

Her advice: “Don’t ignore the symptoms.”

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Next to me, a 73-year-old heart-attack survivor told me how she had just been declared 100 percent healthy during a check up and had gone to see her chiropractor one morning in February. The adjustment on her shoulder (which had been injured in a past car wreck) was particularly painful that day.

But she went to Bible study, only to wake up in the hospital and told she had suffered a heart attack. Her Left Anterior Descending artery (also known as the “widow maker”) was unknowingly blocked.

Her advice: Don’t discount pain and assume it’s another injury. “Err on the side of caution,” she said.

Last, I saw Billy Cohen honored at the front of the room. Billy was 15 when he collapsed while running on the track at Providence Day School. Although he did have a preexisting heart condition, he had only been advised to avoid straining his body, such as with weight-lifting.

So his collapse was a shock. He went into cardiac arrest. And he credits the PDS staff for saving his life by performing CPR and administering an Automated External Defibrillator.

Two surgeries later, he’s no longer running, but he’s still here. He’s still in school. And he’s prompting the rest of us to ask the people in our lives, if we went through a similar situation, could you save me?

Similar to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that swept across social media two summers ago, the #couldyousaveme challenge invites everyone to watch this video (less than two minutes long) featuring the two steps to saving a teen or adult who has suddenly collapsed, with hands-only CPR. Then tag five friends, who will then watch the clip and share with five more friends. Include the hashtag #couldyousaveme.

Think about it. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, according to the American Heart Association. And 70 percent of cardiac arrests happen outside of a hospital setting.

If you had to, could you save me?

Photos: Katie Toussaint

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