Neighbours saving neighbours
March 27, 2023
Each year, 35,000 Canadians experience cardiac arrests – their hearts stop beating unexpectedly. When this happens outside of the hospital, up to 90 per cent of patients die. However, chances of survival are much better with immediate treatment, like cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or defibrillation.
The main challenge is providing treatment in a timely manner: paramedic response time can take an average of six minutes in urban areas and, in rural communities, this waiting time can sometimes exceed 20 minutes. To increase chances of survival of people experiencing cardiac arrest, a new research project is training volunteers to respond to incidents while paramedics are on the way.
Neighbours Saving Neighbours is a partnership between Queen’s University, Frontenac Paramedics, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. The research will look at the success of the volunteer program in a rural area and what a scale-up could look like. The pilot program and training will start early this year in Frontenac County. Queen’s professor Steven Brooks (Queen's Health Sciences) will lead the research arm of the initiative.
“While programs like this are common in countries like the UK, they are rare in Canada and haven’t been studied here,” says Dr. Brooks, who is also a clinician scientist within the Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC). Research will assess if the strategy is feasible and effective at reducing delay to CPR and defibrillator use. Ultimately, the project aims to determine whether this method should be scaled up to other communities across Canada in partnership with Heart and Stroke Canada.
The project received $200,000 from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) Innovation Fund.
Every second counts
Cardiac arrests usually happen without any warning signs. Anyone – including children – can experience them. The goal of the new program is to train approximately 250 local volunteers to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation while waiting for paramedics to get to the scene.
“The dispatch and response of professional responders will continue as usual,” explains Dr. Brooks.
The team expects the volunteering program will shorten the wait for treatment. The program is based on a model used in a rural area of Scotland where volunteer responders arrived, on average, five minutes before paramedics. In the context of cardiac arrest, this difference can be life-saving.
“This is about learning new and better ways to save lives when seconds count,” says Dr. Brooks. “If our program proves to reduce delay in getting help, it has the potential to improve cardiac safety in our communities and save many lives in the future.”
Preparing the community
Volunteers must be 21 or older, have a valid driver’s licence and access to a personal vehicle, and – to ensure they have the necessary physical fitness to providing chest compressions until paramedics arrive – have the ability to perform moderately vigorous physical activity continuously for at least two minutes. They don’t need, however, to have any previous medical education.
Through training, participants will learn how to perform CPR and use a defibrillator, which can deliver an electric shock to help restart the heart. Action First Aid in Barrie, Ont. donated the defibrillators for this pilot program. After initial training, volunteers will take part in refresher sessions every three months.
Trained volunteers will form teams based on geographical location and equipped with an automated external defibrillator. When someone calls 9-1-1 about a possible cardiac arrest, nearby volunteers will be dispatched through a mobile app called GoodSAM. Volunteers will then travel to the scene in their own vehicles, assess the patient to confirm cardiac arrest and provide basic life support until professional responders arrive and take over.
“This project wouldn’t have been possible without the fantastic partnership we have developed between Queen’s, Frontenac Paramedics, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada,” says Dr. Brooks. “It’s partnerships like this that can change our approach to cardiac arrest, make our communities more cardiac safe and save lives.”
Currently, the project is looking for volunteers who may live or work in Frontenac County, north of Hwy. 401 or on Frontenac Islands. If you are interested in learning more, or applying to be a Neighbours Saving Neighbours volunteer, visit the website.