How a new CPR technique — and some old tunes — keeps people “Stayin’ Alive”

Published November 26, 2016

We know that CPR saves lives. Yet people are often reluctant to give mouth-to-mouth breaths on a stranger. But with Hands-Only CPR, people can save lives with their hands — and with the help of some familiar beats.

Hands-Only CPR has two simple steps: if you see a teen or adult suddenly collapse, call 911. Then, push hard and fast in the center of the chest until help arrives. People are more likely to remember the correct pace of CPR chest compression when trained to the beat of the Bee Gees’ classic, “Stayin’ Alive,” or other familiar songs with 100 to 120 beats per minute (bpm).

As it turns out, popular songs such as “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé featuring Jay Z and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” all have the correct beat of 100 to 120 beats per minute.

Hands-Only CPR is the focus of a five-year awareness campaign from the Anthem Foundation and the American Heart Association (AHA) to educate the public about this life-saving skill and train more than 100 million Americans to use this technique. To date, the effort has included placing Hands-Only CPR Training Kiosks at four major airports and the Global Center for Health Innovation in Cleveland, Ohio.

So far, nearly 4 million people have learned this lifesaving skill from the campaign, kiosks, and a Hands-Only CPR Mobile Tour. One of them was Matt Lickenbrock, an engineering student at the University of Dayton.

A Life is Quickly Saved

Instead of idling aimlessly during a three-hour layover at Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport on April 6, 2015, Lickenbrock, 21, spent about 15 minutes at a Hands-Only CPR Training Kiosk at Gate C7. He could not have known how quickly he would put what he learned to use.

Just two days later, an evening storm rolled through Dayton, Ohio, where Lickenbrock went to college. After getting out of his car in the campus parking lot, a professor yelled to him, “Do you know CPR?” He waved Lickenbrock over to Sean Ferguson, a 23-year old student, who was lying on the ground after being struck by lightning. He was not responsive and not breathing.

Lickenbrock started performing Hands-Only CPR and continued for about two minutes. When the paramedics arrived four minutes later, Ferguson’s heart was beating again.

“I remember kneeling in the rain, doing compressions, wondering if this would make a difference. I knew what I was doing because it was what I was trained to do."

- Matt Lickenbrook

“I remember kneeling in the rain, doing compressions, wondering if this would make a difference,” Lickenbrock recalled in an appearance on the syndicated television program The Doctors. “I felt comfortable. It felt just like it did on the kiosk. I knew what I was doing because it was what I was trained to do."

Ferguson, who also suffered burns over 30 percent of his body, made a full recovery.

Steven Pope, a nurse who arrived on the scene, said that Lickenbrock’s quick response made the difference between life and death. “I don’t think he would have [survived]," Pope told WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh. "I think it would have been a sad story instead of a celebration of life.”   

More than 350,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur each year in the United States with 70 percent occurring at home. Hands-Only CPR has been shown to be as effective as conventional CPR for cardiac arrest at home, at work or in public. It can double or even triple a victim’s chance of survival. Learning Hands-Only CPR increases the chance of a bystander taking action in a cardiac emergency. Anthem and the AHA encourage others to learn this critical skill so people are equipped to act in an emergency, potentially saving the lives of strangers and those they love most.

Here are two simple steps to perform hands-only CPR:

Hands only CPR