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Moment that mattered: Piermario Morosini has a heart attack at Stadio Adriatico

Medics assists Livorno's Piermario Morosini laying on the turf of the Pescara's Adriatico stadium, central Italy, Saturday, April 14, 2012, after he collapsed during a Serie B soccer match between Pescara and Livorno. Morosini, who was on loan from Udinese, fell to the ground in the 31st minute of the match and received urgent medical attention on the pitch. A defibrillator was also used on the 25-year-old. The match was called off, with the other players leaving the field in tears.

There are only two things that keep you alive when you’ve had a cardiac arrest like Morosini: someone doing chest compressions, and someone trying to restart your heart with a defibrillator. For every minute that passes without help, your chance of survival decreases by around 10 percent.

If you drop down in the street with a heart attack and someone performs bystander CPR until the medical professionals arrive then there is a window to save your life. Sadly though, in the UK only around 7 percent of people who have a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital currently survive, with few receiving help from passersby.

In Seattle, meanwhile, which has some of the United States’s highest levels of bystander response to cardiac arrest, and where defibrillators have been liberally scattered throughout the city (you’ll find them almost as regularly as you find fire extinguishers), you have around a 50 percent chance of surviving.

Given that cardiac arrest is the UK’s single biggest killer, beating cancer by a mile, it’s clear that emulating Seattle’s success could have a huge effect. At a conservative estimate, around 60,000 people in the UK have a cardiac arrest outside of hospital each year. If we could change seven percent survival to even 40 percent, that’s just under 20,000 additional people who would survive each year.

It may not be justifiable in the UK to place defibrillators as frequently as they do in Seattle, but  targeting certain areas with very high footfall would be extremely effective. Gyms, churches, GPs’ surgeries, golf courses, supermarkets: all these places should be required by law to have defibrillators. Remote areas where ambulance response times are longer should be targeted too. The other key way we can make a difference is in teaching CPR to kids. In Norway every child is taught CPR – they start aged eight, when they get sent home with a training video and a mannequin to practise on, and they have a yearly refresher course up to the age of 14. Since starting the programme, Norway has seen a huge rise in bystander CPR rates and consequently has a much lower mortality from out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.

The Resuscitation Council (UK) has teamed up with the British Heart Foundation (BHF) to promote an Emergency Life Support Campaign. What we’re trying to do is to get CPR onto the National Curriculum, to make it mandatory for every schoolchild to be taught how to save a life.

We see the training fitting into PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) classes – which feature a woolly ragbag of things that are generally perceived as useful for kids to learn – or even into PE lessons. It takes just two hours to teach a child the skill of extended life support, which is less than 0.2 percent of a school year, surely more useful than a couple of runs or a single music lesson.

The government has been receptive but they currently rank us at the same level as campaign groups who believe chess or knitting should be put on the curriculum. But I do think we’re the only group with such a weight of evidence and such an obvious, intuitive appeal behind us. We’ve got an online petition too, which has been majorly boosted by the recent BHF Vinnie Jones ad campaign for CPR, and which now has more than 100,000 signatures. We’re currently building towards presenting it to parliament and drumming up media support around the issue.

Piermario Morosini’s death was a sad loss and a real tragedy. He died despite receiving CPR as soon as he fell down on pitch. But for every case like his there is one like Fabrice Muamba’s, in which the victim is saved by immediate treatment. The more we educate people in basic CPR, the more defibrillators we install and the more that bystanders are prepared to step in, the more lives will be saved.

We have already come a long way – 2010 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the invention of CPR as we know it in Scandinavia. Before that time, people used to have all sorts of weird ways of treating cardiac arrest victims: they would dangle them upside down, throw ice at them, even try to pump air up their bottoms. We are making progress…


If you are interesting in supporting the Emergency Life Support Campaign or would like more information, visit www.bit.ly/OtvRSB.

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