Suppose you're walking down the street, eating at a restaurant or doing your job at work. Someone slumps over unconscious. You suspect a heart attack — but do you know what to do? If you don't, that person may die before your eyes.

This is one of those instances where you don't have time to tap your phone and do a Google search of "What to do for a heart attack." Once cardiac arrest takes place, brain damage occurs in about three minutes, and by nine minutes, it is likely to be severe and irreversible. Being familiar with the techniques of CPR and putting them to use promptly can make a big difference in whether a heart attack victim survives.

How big? In 2011, the Joint Commission reports, only 3 percent of people in Chicago who suffered cardiac arrest outside a hospital survived. Today, the figure is 10 percent. The Tribune's John Keilman reports that scientists say the improvement came about "because more bystanders are performing CPR in the crucial moments after a person's heart stops beating." The percentage of victims who got CPR from bystanders rose to 24 percent in 2016, nearly double the rate in 2013.

In recent years, many 911 dispatchers have been trained on coaching bystanders to perform CPR. Another helpful change is that more places are equipped with defibrillators that can shock a heart back into normal rhythm.

If you don't know how to perform CPR, maybe it's time you learned. Part of being a contributing member of a community is taking basic steps to help keep others healthy and alive.

That means getting inoculated against contagious diseases such as measles and influenza, to prevent harmful and even lethal pathogens from infecting those who, because of age, pregnancy or health conditions such as a weakened immune system, have to avoid vaccines.

It also means signing up to be an organ donor when you get a driver's license or state ID card. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported in January that last year, organ donations rose by 4 percent, continuing "an eight-year trend of record-setting donation." In Illinois, 6.7 million people — roughly half the current population — are registered to donate. But more of these unselfish potential donors are needed, because 4,000 people here are awaiting organ transplants.

Learning CPR and putting it to use if the need arises is another of these easy ways to help your fellow human beings. If you don't know how, you can watch a video on the website of Illinois Heart Rescue: Even better, you can take one of the many classes you can find online.

There are all sorts of ways ordinary people can save lives. Being ready to do CPR is one of them.

Chicago Tribune, Saturday

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