The number of lives saved by CPR isn't as many as TV shows would have you believe.
In his 20 years of practicing emergency medicine, Dr. David Newman says, he remembers every patient who has walked out of his hospital alive after receiving CPR.Posted by Jill Fallon at December 17, 2013 10:53 PM | Permalink
It's not because Newman has an extraordinary memory or because reviving a patient whose heart has stopped sticks in his mind more than other types of trauma. It's because the number of individuals who survive CPR is so small.
In fact, out of the hundreds of CPR patients who have come to the New York hospitals where he has worked, Newman recalls no more than one individual a year making a full recovery.
Exact survival rates are difficult to come by, as studies generally look at specific populations. A 2012 study showed that only about 2% of adults who collapse on the street and receive CPR recover fully. Another from 2009 (PDF) showed that anywhere from 4% to 16% of patients who received bystander CPR were eventually discharged from the hospital. About 18% of seniors who receive CPR at the hospital survive to be discharged, according to a third study (PDF).
So when did the misconception about the effectiveness of CPR begin? Some researchers argue that television created the myth. Between 1994 and 1995, researchers from Duke University watched 97 episodes of "ER," "Chicago Hope" and "Rescue 911," taking note of when CPR was administered during each show. In these dramas, 75% of patients survived immediate cardiac arrest, and two-thirds were discharged from the hospital with full brain function, a stark contrast to the much smaller percentage found by medical studies.
Newman says the few who do survive after CPR are what physicians describe as the "healthy dead": i.e. "a boy who drowned moments before," "a man who collapses while running a marathon" or someone experiencing a mild heart attack.
More common are the "unhealthy dead": those with terminal illnesses, the chronically ill and patients who do not receive CPR within five to 10 minutes of cardiac arrest.
"In these cases, (CPR) is unnecessarily burdensome, invasive and arguably cruel, with little to no chance of benefit," Newman said. Many survivors suffer abdominal distention or broken rib cages; some have severe brain damage from being without oxygen for so long.