Louis Abbott had just seconds to assess what had happened to his brother, Ral, after he fell off a short ladder while working at a vineyard in Velarde about three weeks ago.
Ral was bleeding from one ear and not breathing. He had no pulse and his skin was a grayish white.
Louis Abbott figured his older brother had suffered a heart attack and began chest compressions within 20 seconds of the fall.
Abbott performed the compressions for the next 25 minutes while Ral’s wife, Harriett, gave him rescue breaths — a move doctors say kept Ral alive before he boarded an ambulance and then a helicopter to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center.
Ral Abbott was treated for what doctors said was cardiac arrest and later had a defibrillator implanted in his body. The bleeding came from a cut he got when he hit his head on a saw horse during the fall. He was able to go home within a few days of the event.
While the Abbotts’ story had a positive outcome, local doctors say their case is all too rare. Most people on the scene don’t start CPR for fear of doing it wrong, or of contracting someone else’s germs. For others, panic sets in.
That’s something cardiologists involved in Project Heart Start are trying to change. The program aims to educate people on how simple it can be to save a life.
“Less than 30 percent of the time when someone drops does anyone do anything like that, which is unfortunate because really CPR has been well validated to save lives,” said Dr. Adam Ronan, a cardiologist with the New Mexico Heart Institute and one of a team of doctors who treated Abbott in Santa Fe and Albuquerque after his cardiac arrest.
“Chest compressions alone work. It’s simple and it saves lives,” Ronan said.
Ronan said the American Heart Association in 2010 changed its recommendations for CPR done by laypeople. The group now recommends that someone on the scene call 911 and start chest compressions immediately, without first checking for breathing or doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. At least 100 compressions should be done a minute, he said, and should force the victim’s chest down at least two inches. To do compressions, responders should place their hands in the center of the victim’s nipple line.
For trained responders, the AHA still recommends doing rescue breathing.
The new recommendations for laypeople are for victims of any age who are not breathing. The number of compressions per minute is the same for adults and children.
Studies have shown the compression-only method is at least as effective as conventional CPR, Ronan said.
On June 23, Project Heart Start officials will present a 12-minute video on the compression-only method and let participants practice CPR on dummies. They also will demonstrate how to use an automated external defibrillator, or AED, something that often intimidates people in an emergency.
“They are self-explanatory,” Ronan said. “It’s turning them on, putting on the stickers [on the victim] and listening to what the speakers say.”
The event will take place at Santa Fe High School, starting at 8 a.m., with a training video shown three times at three consecutive hour-long training sessions.
As for Ral Abbott, he is back at home and not showing signs of neurological damage, something Ronan said is rare and attributable to the quick work by his brother, wife and sister-in-law.
“It’s amazing that they did it for so long and that he is able to walk and talk,” Ronan said.
In Ral’s case, his family members had some training in what to do. Louis in 1978 worked as an EMT for a year in Rio Arriba County. Louis’ wife, Tina, is a nurse practitioner and helped on the scene as well.
Harriett Abbott is a nurse, which helped her stay calm, but she said CPR is not difficult.
“It’s not hard to do,” she said. “Anyone can do it.”