NFL player Damar Hamlin was released from a Buffalo, New York, hospital on Jan. 11, nine days after his heart stopped during a Jan. 2 game in Cincinnati. 

The 24-year-old safety’s recovery began within minutes of his collapse, when medical personnel administered, first, CPR and then defibrillation to keep blood and oxygen flowing through Hamlin’s body. 

The quick work garnered praise from Hamlin’s Buffalo Bills teammates, and the public noticed, too. Google searches for “CPR” spiked the day after Hamlin’s injury, though they’ve nearly returned to baseline levels since.

Interest in these life-saving skills is a good thing, and anyone can learn them, said Anthony Boyd, a First Aid/CPR instructor with the American Red Cross of North Texas. “The more people learning, the more lives are saved,” he said. 

Boyd, a former police officer who has trained people in CPR and other skills for over two decades, walked the Report through a slew of life-saving courses that exist — outlining what they cover, and who should pursue them. 

Where can I find these classes?

Type in your city and find a myriad classes through the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association. Some courses cover more than one skill set.

CPR

Who should learn it? Everyone.

CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, is the manual pumping of the chest to help circulate blood and oxygen throughout the body.  “You’re like the heart,” Boyd said. “You’re their heart for a moment.”

The body requires a continuous flow of blood, which carries oxygen, to survive. Each heartbeat enables that flow, pushing blood to organs and tissues. When the heart stops, the flow stops — and if too much time passes, parts of the body, like the brain, could “starve” from oxygen deprivation and die. Irreparable damage can take place as few as four minutes after the heart stops, Boyd said.

CPR can be performed solely with chest compressions, a method known as “hands-only CPR,” or with compressions and breaths, where the rescuer alternates between chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth breathing. 

But CPR is only the first step, Boyd said. “CPR really doesn’t restart the heart,” he said. “It only buys time.” 

AED

Who should learn it? Everyone.

AED, or automated external defibrillator, is a medical device that delivers an electric jolt through the chest to “shock the heart back into a normal rhythm,” Boyd said. Medical personnel used an AED on Hamlin after his collapse. 

The AED works by analyzing a person’s heart rhythm to determine whether a shock is needed. If so, the device prompts the user to press a shock button. The ensuing electricity stops the heart altogether, allowing the organ to reset and beat normally once more.

Operating the device is simple, Boyd said, because a recorded voice provides instructions in real-time. “You turn it on. You follow the directions,” he said. 

First Aid

Who should learn it? Everyone.

First Aid is an umbrella term that includes an array of skills, like how to identify a stroke, address a burn or respond to choking or an anaphylactic reaction. At the American Red Cross, First Aid also includes Stop the Bleed training, which teaches people how to prevent severe blood loss in an emergency. 

Basic Life Support

Who should learn it? Health care professionals.

Basic Life Support includes advanced training in skills like CPR and AED, Boyd said, as well as lessons in teamwork and preparing an injured person for transportation. 

Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support

Who should learn it? Health care professionals.

Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support includes a review of Basic Life Support skills, as well as intubation, where a provider inserts a breathing tube down a person’s windpipe, and delivery of relevant medicines in an emergency. 

After saving a life, remember to care for your own

Life-saving courses can provide the repetition that leads to confidence, said Robyn Trocchio, assistant professor in kinesiology at TCU and at the Burnett School of Medicine at TCU. Trocchio has a Ph.D. in sport psychology. 

That confidence can lead to composure amid a stressful situation, she said, like the one Hamlin’s medical team faced as millions of onlookers watched his rescue unfold. 

“Having that confidence is critical,” she said. “And the more you practice, the more you train, the more confident you are in doing it — just like on the sports fields. If you’re confident in your play, you’re going to perform it well.”

However, Trocchio added, even the successful execution of CPR or another life-saving skill can be “physically and emotionally taxing” for the rescuer. She recommends people debrief through conversations with loved ones and mental health professionals.

“It is hard to process,” she said. “In (Hamlin’s case), you have millions of people watching you and watching how it went down. So they performed, in my opinion, very well, and that’s where the practice came in.” 

Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact her at alexis.allison@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Alexis AllisonHealth Reporter

Alexis Allison covers health for the Fort Worth Report. When she can, she'll slip in an illustration or two. Allison is a former high school English teacher and hopes her journalism is likewise educational....