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Parents as First-Responders

Just imagine the unthinkable. Your infant or toddler is found unresponsive, in an apparent lifeless state. Whether a drowning, choking, or other life-threatening event, the time to act is NOW. Survival for your infant or child during such an event requires immediate action on the part of those present, typically you as the parent.

We often push these frightening thoughts to the back of our minds as they seem almost too much to bear. Yet, statistics are clear and tell us that parents who have training and act quickly are more likely to affect a good outcome during a health crisis.

The notion of the "first-responder" was greatly popularized after the events of 9-11-01 where the bravery and unquestioned commitment to life saving was there for all to see. Although extremely capable, paramedics cannot act until they are present to do so. In the meantime, many victims are suffering the effects of lack of oxygen, which can have devastating consequences.

This is where "parents as first-responders" comes into play. Most CPR courses emphasize the importance of immediate action on the part of those present at the moment of crisis. It turns out to be true. What actions taken in the very moments before the arrival of the paramedics are often the most effective to restore (or at least sustain) life in both the child and adult populations.

As a result, parents need to take a hard look at the very place where these events tend to occur. . . . your home. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)and the American Heart Association (AHA) have studies showing what kind of emergencies can take a small life. 

Consequently, we ask parents to focus on the following areas:
* Protect all water sources to prevent drowning
* Be aware to prevent choking as well as know what to do should it occur
* Have all of your smoke detectors fully functional
* Keep all toxic substances away from infants & children
* Protect all stairwells with gates, both top & bottom

These areas reflect where most critical events occur in the home. It should provide parents with a clear picture of where a pro-active response can take place. But what happens if your best efforts at prevention fail?


The general rules for immediate action in a life threatening event include:

* If ALONE with a pediatric victim (8 years or under), start CPR BEFORE calling 9-1-1. Do this for up to 2 minutes before calling for help.

* If another rescuer is present, doing CPR AND dialing 9-1-1 should happen at the same time.

* USE A LANDLINE for 9-1-1 calls whenever possible as the pick-up time is faster and they will know your whereabouts (on their computer screen).

* Employ the SPEAKER PHONE to allow hands-free and improved communication during a critical event.

* Have other important phone numbers posted near your phone (parent cell phone #'s, M.D. office, poison control center, etc.)

* TAKE A CPR COURSE and be ready! Many emergencies require simple action so reviewing these can be of immense help when you are already scared and feeling helpless.

* HAVE A PLAN: look at your home with a critical eye with respect to risky areas. Think about how you might react if alone vs. having others to help. Be absolutely sure that anyone who has solo care for your infant or child be trained as well. We cannot assume that we will always be present when an emergency occurs.

In summation, parents and immediate family members are really the ones who are the first-responders, and can make the biggest difference during a health emergency.

Article written by: Richard Pass, RN, BS, of Save a Little Life, who teaches our Infant & Toddler CPR and Family Safety Class, which are held about once a month here at A Mother's Haven Boutique & Educational Center in San Fernando Valley.

Richard Pass, RN, BS is the founder of “Save A Little Life” Inc, a local provider of both CPR and First-Aid for infants &children. He has been a Registered Nurse & Health Educator for over 30 years. He is on staff at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and is currently a part-time clinical instructor of nursing at California State University, Northridge. The goal for Save a Little Life is to provide a simpler, more “user friendly” CPR course for parents, grandparents, and caregivers.


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