7 Questions : Libby Johnston

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In our latest 7 Questions instalment, we interview experienced women's health worker and OHCA activist, Libby Johnston, to learn her perspective on OHCA, CPR in education and her future hopes of making a positive difference.

Below, we share the questions we asked Libby which explore when she first became aware of sudden cardiac arrest and why she has made it a priority to ensure as many people as possible are aware le, to the dangers that surround it.

  1. Can you remember when you became aware of sudden cardiac arrest and the dangers that surround it?

It was as a student nurse on placement in a Coronary Care Unit in the early 1980’s. A woman recovering well from a heart attack and quite stable called to me and simply fell back into her pillow, unresponsive and her cardiac monitor ‘alarmed’, showing her heart had started fibrillating and then stopped after seconds. It was the first time I witnessed a sudden cardiac arrest.

It was essential to act quickly and keep the flow of blood to her brain and vital organs. So, there was an immediate reaction to call for help and me to start chest compressions. Within a minute the ‘Crash’ team were involved and once defibrillated she recovered. It reinforced how suddenly someone could suffer a cardiac arrest, this one in the best place to have one.

I felt concerned even then of the danger, that out of hospital, this chain of events needed for a sudden cardiac arrest would be far more difficult to link together quickly. More importantly, it would rely mostly on non-medical bystanders to start CPR and have access to a defibrillator.

The biggest danger was and still is the lack of immediate access to a defibrillator in the community. This with willing bystanders to step forward, start CPR and use the AED. It is this that can increase the chance of someone being revived from a sudden cardiac arrest.

  1. What inspired you to work to help improve women’s health?

As a midwife, my role was to look after pregnant women and encourage a healthy lifestyle for the benefit of mother and baby, similarly in my nursing practice.  Encouraging women to self-examine for breast lumps and have regular checks for women-specific diseases like cervical screening.

Other research has shown the influence of hormones in women and link to cardiovascular disease. In recent years, clinical research has shown that women experience different signs and symptoms of heart disease, have smaller coronary vessels and experience different symptoms to men when they have a heart attack.  So, it has been a natural progression to promote women’s health and raise awareness of these issues.

  1. A hot topic within first aid is its influence in education: Do you think CPR and AED training should be implemented as a compulsory part of the National Curriculum?

Absolutely, just imagine every man, woman and child eventually knowing basic first aid and how to revive someone from cardiac arrest with CPR and using an AED.  There has to be a starting place and a captive audience, so to speak, so teaching these basic life skills in schools as a rolling program is the natural way to go about it.  Encouraging that degree of helpfulness is the way to engender a kind society that tries to help someone who is injured and save lives. It’s morally the right thing to do and who wouldn’t want to be able to help a loved one, friend or anyone in trouble. It’s a considerable task but needs to continue in the future generations.

Encouraging that degree of helpfulness is the way to engender a kind society that tries to help someone who is injured and save lives. It’s morally the right thing to do and who wouldn’t want to be able to help a loved one, friend or anyone in trouble. It’s a considerable task but needs to continue in the future generations.

  1. Do you think there are enough precautions put in place to protect the general public from sudden cardiac arrest?

Personally, I don’t think so. In the case of sudden cardiac arrest, defibrillators should be as commonplace as fire extinguishers and they aren’t yet. More people need to ‘know’ about this along with the need for knowing CPR. Much awareness is out there from the various charities like the British Heart Foundation, St Johns Ambulance and the emergency services and other organisations.  Yet not everyone may know how to help or feel confident to do it. Another consideration is that defibrillators aren’t free and the cost implications in some cases for training require fundraising and philanthropy. Much fundraising is ongoing by schools and communities but there

Much awareness is out there from the various charities like the British Heart Foundation, St Johns Ambulance and the emergency services and other organisations.  Yet not everyone may know how to help or feel confident to do it. Another consideration is that defibrillators aren’t free and the cost implications in some cases for training require fundraising and philanthropy. Much fundraising is ongoing by schools and communities but there

Another consideration is that defibrillators aren’t free and the cost implications in some cases for training require fundraising and philanthropy. Much fundraising is ongoing by schools and communities but there is great disparity and some better provided for than others. Schools are more aware of Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic disorder, that can be screened for that causes sudden cardiac arrest in the young and often seen in athletes. Even

Schools are more aware of Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, a genetic disorder, that can be screened for that causes sudden cardiac arrest in the young and often seen in athletes. Even so, there are still schools that don’t have AEDs in place, this must change.

  1. Do you think awareness on OHCA and the risk of other heart conditions has increased over the past 5 years?

Definitely and the need to keep it going is vital. There can be no complacency until everyone knows and can do CPR with an available AED. Denmark has tripled survival rates from Out of Hospital Sudden Cardiac Arrest through increasing Bystander CPR and use of an AED. The UK should be able to do this.

In Scotland, there is a Save a Life Scotland initiative with the Scottish Ambulance service going into primary schools upwards teaching children CPR and first aid. Similarly, charitable organisations are offering CPR training.

  1. What changes would you like to see being made to increase the survival chances for victims of sudden cardiac arrest?

Improving the chain of survival by shrinking the time that CPR efforts are started. This could be improved by increasing confident bystander CPR with use of an AED as the key. By continual efforts to have everyone CPR trained along with having abundant publicly available defibrillators. In one American state, they have public AEDs every ‘5-minute drive’ apart, perhaps this could be achieved in populated areas of the UK.

  1. How do you aim to raise awareness of sudden cardiac arrest in the future in the hopes of making a difference?

I will continue to promote CPR and the need for availability of AEDs everywhere, encouraging those who do learn and install Defibrillators. I started doing this in our village and have encouraged local businesses to install defibrillators and train staff with some success. Using Twitter, in particular, I have been able to promote awareness and the need for CPR much further afield albeit with a single voice. Networking this way has enabled others here in Britain and abroad to promote CPR in their countries and hopefully with the same intention of saving lives globally.  Every life saved is important and that is what fuels my desire to continue raising awareness.

Using Twitter, in particular, I have been able to promote awareness and the need for CPR much further afield albeit with a single voice. Networking this way has enabled others here in Britain and abroad to promote CPR in their countries and hopefully with the same intention of saving lives globally.  Every life saved is important and that is what fuels my desire to continue raising awareness.

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