In addition to celebrating the “heart” of February here in the middle of this 29-day month, we’d like to remind readers that it’s also American Heart Month.

Far too many Americans die of cardiac arrest. That’s the bad news. The good news: Some heavy hitters, including schools, have taken steps in recent years to improve survival rates.

Getting everyone’s attention is one giant step, and we hope a major medical report will do just that.

About 600,000 people suffer cardiac arrests each year, according to the Institute of Medicine, which is part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. Not surprising, most of those people — about 395,000, the institute reports — have that health crisis occur in their homes or other non-hospital settings. Fewer than 6% of those people survive. And of the more than 200,000 cardiac arrests that happen in hospitals every year, the report says, only about 1 in 4 survive.

“Cardiac arrest is not a heart attack — it’s worse,” Associated Press medical writer Lauran Neergaard writes. “It means the heart abruptly stops beating, its electrical activity knocked out of rhythm. CPR can buy critical time if it’s started immediately, but this report concludes the nation must take key steps to give victims a better shot.”

Cardiac arrest survival rates are “unacceptably low,” said Dr. Robert Graham of George Washington University, who chaired the IOM committee’s 2019 investigation and is one of 17 physicians among the 20 people conducting the study.

Those rates are lousy, he might as well have said, largely because too few Americans actually respond in emergencies.

Why don’t they respond? Neergaard tells us the IOM committee blames “fear, not understanding what cardiac arrest is, lack of first-aid training and concern about legal liability [which] can hamper response and cost precious time.”

So “what to do may sound straightforward,” Neergaard reported. “Call 911, and then start quick, hard compressions of the person’s chest until trained responders arrive. If a device called an AED — an automated external defibrillator — is available, use it.”

According to The Cleveland Clinic, 54% of Americans say they know CPR, but only 1 in 6 know that the recommended technique for bystander CPR consists of just chest compressions — and no breaths — on an adult. Even fewer, 11%, know the correct pace for performing these compressions (100 to 120 beats per minute), the clinic reports.

Mounting a major public education effort to teach people how to recognize and react to cardiac arrest is one of several IOM recommendations. Fortunately, that effort is well underway.

Maryland and 39 other states have already made CPR training a high school graduation requirement — and legislation is expected to be reintroduced this year in Colorado and South Dakota toward that end. In 2014, Maryland enacted “Breanna’s Law,” named for a Maryland high school field hockey player saved by CPR. It mandates response training for graduation. That training continues to be covered in students’ physical education and health classes here in St. Mary’s.

And training by adults came in handy last week at Great Mills High School, where a 17-year-old student collapsed during basketball practice and needed help. Both CPR and an AED were used by an athletic trainer, St. Mary’s sheriff’s deputies and first responders to revive the student, who was then helicoptered to a D.C. hospital. The student is still recovering from the incident, according to the sheriff’s office this week, and a GoFundMe page has been established to help with the teen’s medical bills.

For adults interested in more information about CPR/AED training, the American Red Cross is the go-to agency. It’s reachable online at or by telephone at 1-800-733-2767.

The Red Cross even offers an online course in CPR/AED that provides essentials, although not the scope of a hands-on course. For more information, visit

In this month of heart health awareness, we recommend training wholeheartedly. Knowing how to respond to an arrest could save a loved one, or even a total stranger. But doing nothing could be a fatal mistake.