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CPR can help you save a life when you least expect it

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Turlock Fire Department Capt. Larry Chalupnik, Engineer Paul Arai, and Firefighter Nicholas Grillo display the compression techniques used in CPR.

SABRA STAFFORD/209 Health & Wellness

POSTED July 24, 2012 6:17 p.m.

Tamara McKinstry, a registered dental assistant, had been taking classes in cardiopulmonary resuscitation for years as part of her certification process, but never gave it much thought outside of the classroom. But that all changed one night in 2010 at an Atwater bar owned by her mother.

An elderly man, who was a family friend, suddenly collapsed on the dance floor.

“He just went down,” McKinstry recalled. “He didn’t have a pulse and he wasn’t breathing. There was nothing.”

All that training in CPR suddenly came into play and for 22 minutes McKinstry worked on keeping the man alive. The man was shocked twice by emergency responders and flat-lined on the way to the hospital, only to be revived again.

Two years later the man has made a full recovery and both he and his doctor credit McKinstry with saving his life.

“It is a very rewarding feeling to be able to utilize that training,” McKinstry said. “I was the only one there who knew CPR and if I hadn’t been there, he wouldn’t be walking around now.”

McKinstry is in the minority among the American public. The American Heart Association estimates that about 30 percent of the population is able to perform CPR in a critical situation.

Turlock Fire Engineer Paul Arai has first-hand experience with administering CPR and knows the importance of learning the life-saving technique.

“With cardiac arrest, every second counts,” Arai said. “The odds of a person surviving a cardiac event are significantly better when there is someone close at hand to perform CPR.”

According to the AHA, performing CPR can double a person’s chance of survival from sudden cardiac arrest. The AHA also found that 75 percent of all cardiac arrests happen in people’s home, so knowing CPR is more likely to save the life of a loved one than a complete stranger.

The basic principle behind CPR is keeping the blood flowing to the heart and oxygen to the brain. In sudden cardiac arrest the heart goes from a normal heartbeat to a quivering rhythm called ventricular fibrillation. Ventricular fibrillation is fatal unless and electric shock, like that from a defibrillator, is administered. CPR doesn’t stop ventricular fibrillation, but it does extend the time period that defibrillation can be effective. CPR provides a trickle of oxygenated blood to the brain and heart and keeps these organs alive until defibrillation can shock the heart into a normal rhythm.

A variety of organizations offer CPR classes for individuals, and groups. The American Red Cross ( and American Heart Association ( are two places to start in looking for CPR classes; there are also many private companies who specialize in first aid training.

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