When a medical emergency strikes and time is of the essence, it’s certainly helps to have Francoise Eberhardt, BSN, RN, around. With her quick critical thinking skills and wealth of nursing knowledge, Eberhardt, a nurse on Penn Presbyterian Medical Center’s Cupp 3 East unit, isn’t afraid to spring to action and lend a hand, especially when someone’s health and safety is on the line.
Her recent experience at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women is a case in point. Eberhardt was overseeing Penn’s Mobile CPR Project table in the main conference hall while project coordinator Nabil Abdulhay finished a CPR lesson. Suddenly, there was a piercing scream. Eberhardt watched as a woman just a few feet away crumpled to the ground, her shoes flying in different directions. She ran to the woman, now violently convulsing, and cradled her head to protect it from the floor and nearby table legs. As a small crowd of shocked attendees gathered around, Eberhardt methodically gave them instructions — call 911, inform security, clear the area, and stay calm.
“I realized she was having a grand mal seizure, so I moved her onto her side to keep her airway clear. It was by far the most aggressive seizure I’d ever seen,” she said. “Nabil was right behind me. He thought she might have medication in her bag, but I explained that we couldn’t give her anything; she could choke. She just needed to ride it out, and I stayed with her until it was over.”
After a little over a minute, the woman regained consciousness. Once she understood what had happened, she confirmed she did have a history of seizures, and she was so grateful that Eberhardt and Abdulhay kept her safe. “The Convention Center is huge, and there were 10,000 people walking around. For her to have a seizure right in front of us, and for us to be equipped to help — it was surreal,” she said.
But what if Eberhardt and her infinite calmness aren’t available when someone experiences an emergency? What if no one with medical training is nearby? Coincidentally, that’s exactly what she was at the conference to talk about.
“Afterward, we found out that some people thought that the seizure was fake and that we were drawing people to our CPR table with a realistic scenario!” she added. While CPR wouldn’t have been helpful in this case, “the whole situation did illustrate our point perfectly! It’s so important for bystanders to check in if they see something is wrong and to take action. In the case of someone collapsing and going into cardiac arrest, for example, not being afraid to jump in and start hands-only CPR can save a life.”
For two years, Eberhardt has volunteered with the Mobile CPR Project — created by Penn’s Center for Resuscitation Science, and headed by Benjamin S. Abella, MD, MPhil, director of the center and a professor of Emergency Medicine. The project aims to break down the barriers to CPR education and to meet Philadelphians where they are — churches, classrooms, conferences, block parties, anywhere. The goal is to teach as many people as possible how to respond to cardiac arrest emergencies as they wait for emergency personnel to arrive.
According to the Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival, only about 39 percent of patients nationwide received bystander CPR before an ambulance arrived in 2018, and less than 12 percent had a bystander apply an automated external defibrillator (AED). But with more than 1,000 people dying from cardiac arrest in Philadelphia each year, public intervention is critical for improving chances for survival.
Groups who register for a free, interactive Mobile CPR Project class watch the American Heart Association’s training video, learn the proper technique for hands-only CPR (which does not include rescue breaths), practice their skills on blow-up dummies and mannequins, and have the opportunity to ask questions and voice their fears. Each session also includes information on using an AED and identifying the symptoms of a stroke. Over the years, Mobile CPR Project team members like Eberhardt and Abdulhay have been able to teach thousands of individuals how to overcome their fears and take action.
“The question we always hear is, ‘What happens if I break a rib?’ People are really worried that they’ll hurt someone. But even if you break a rib, you’re still compressing the heart muscle. They’re already on the ground, and they need you,” Eberhardt said. “It’s a scary situation, and acting quickly with the proper technique can be overwhelming, but if you learn how to help, you can save a life. I hear all the time that people feel so much more confident in their abilities and feel equipped to step up and help. What’s more empowering than that?”