The Strange Origins and Fateful Evolution of CPR

The Strange Origins and Fateful Evolution of CPR on

From seemingly hopeless to everyday miracles

According to the Journal of Johns Hopkins Hospital Bulletin, in 1767, the Society for Recovery of Drowned Persons (SRDP) listed “‘stimulating’ the victim by such means as rectal and oral fumigation with tobacco smoke” as a method of resuscitation. While some of their methods may have seemed comically off base, variations of four out of seven of their procedures are still in use today.

It took centuries for humans to fully develop Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR), but it only took decades for modern CPR to go from a novel, medically-accepted technique in the mid-20th century to an everyday lifesaver.

Rediscovering a miracle

On December 3rd, 1732, deep inside the suffocating confines of a Scottish coal mine, James Blair took what would have been his last breath. His comrades lugged the coal-pit miner’s lifeless body up 34 fathoms of mining tunnels, where William Tossach, a local surgeon, took command of the scene. After confirming the absence of a pulse, in a move that certainly must have startled onlookers, Tossach employed an ancient but little-known technique. The surgeon leaned down, propped Blair’s mouth open, pressed his lips tightly over the victim’s, and exhaled.

Air wisped out of Blair’s nostrils – not the results Tossach expected. He then pinched Blair’s nose shut, drew in a deep breath and blew again. The miner’s chest inflated and immediately produced “six or seven very quick beats of the heart.” Blair went on to achieve a full recovery, and news of this re-discovered resuscitation technique spread across Europe.

By 1740, the Paris Academy of Sciences had officially recommended mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as a method of saving drowning victims. In 1771, the Society of Recovery of Drowned Persons credited their techniques, which included respirations into the mouth, as having saved 150 people over the span of four years. Considered in terms of 1767 communications, that number is a little more impressive than it might sound.

Massaging the heart

Jump forward to 1903. Dr. George Crile, who’d been experimenting with chest compressions to resuscitate dogs, successfully revived a human using the same technique. However, like many of humanity’s breakthroughs, this discovery bloomed in multiple cultures; jujitsu and judo books as far back as the 17th century described similar methods of external cardiac massage. It seemed, one way or another, CPR was destined to make its way into human knowledge.

In 1922, Dr. Claude Beck witnessed a startling surgical incident during his internship. The operation took a dramatic turn when the anesthetist declared that the patient’s heart had stopped beating. An astounded Beck reported that the resident surgeon’s response was to take off his gloves, pick up the phone, and call in the fire department to revive (unsuccessfully) the patient!

This experience had a profound effect on the young doctor. Twenty-five years later, in 1947, a 14-year old boy became the first human to be successfully revived using electrical engineer William Kouwenhoven’s external defibrillator. The boy’s life-saving doctor was none other than Dr. Claude Beck, who had spent the years since his residency becoming a pioneer in heart surgery, CPR, and using electrical shock to restart the heart.

A lifesaving merger

On September 16, 1960, the American Heart Association officially announced its promotion of cardiopulmonary resuscitation as the combination of two techniques – external heart massage and mouth to mouth – that “cannot be considered any longer as separate units.” In the decades that followed, CPR became a household name thanks to promotional films and global training programs.

By 1981, the first program to train 911 operators on how to give CPR instructions over the phone was implemented, a standard that’s now universal in the United States. Three years later, EMTs and firefighters began using automated external defibrillators, a user-friendly device requiring less training than previous versions of the machine.

Constantly evolving

Like all good science, CPR exists in a dynamic state, adjusting to new findings in an effort to generate a more efficient and effective technique. In 2005, the American Heart Association Guidelines for CPR & ECC revised the compression to ventilation ratio. In the years that followed, the AHA emphasis has shifted even more toward chest compressions, after studies revealed the efficacy of constant compressions without rescue breathing.

Today, people from all walks of life enroll in CPR and AED training programs, and the adoption of AEDs is growing. More and more industries are requiring certification as a safety standard, and training techniques have made learning how to save lives accessible to a wide range of students.

One Beat CPR is proud to continue this tradition by contributing to lifesaving education. We provide CPR and AED training for students as diverse as corporate employees, families, and dedicated medical professionals. For more information about classes or the latest CPR techniques, contact us today.