I have just been reading a fascinating article on the BBC Website about how Guy Knickerbocker discovered in 1958 that pushing on the chest of a dog having a cardiac arrest, managed to keep them alive longer. The full article can be read in The Dog behind CPR
“There are about 30,000 cardiac arrests every year in the UK and ten times that number in the US. It is one of the most common ways to die.
It is also one of the most common scenarios in which a bystander can save a life through CPR or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the technique used to keep blood and oxygen pumping round the body until emergency help arrives.
This ‘kiss of life’ has an intriguing history stretching back over 100 years to when electricity was first being installed in domestic homes and, in part, it owes its discovery to the fate of an unnamed lab dog.”
Guy Knickerbocker was an electrical engineer woring in one of the labs at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, trying to improve the external defibrillator, which Kouwenhoven had invented a few years earlier. Their experiments involved testing on laboratory dogs.
When one of the dogs they were working with had a cardiac arrest and their heart was in ventricular fibrillation, Knickerbocker had a brainwave. “We started to pump the dog’s chest because it seemed to be the right thing to do.”
“Knickerbocker raced along the stairs to the fifth floor to get the defibrillator while his colleagues pressed the dog’s chest for 20 minutes – four times longer than any previous successful attempt.
When he arrived back with the defibrillator and administered two shocks, the dog sprang back to life.
The importance of their discovery cannot be overstated; the experiment established beyond doubt that rhythmic pressing of the chest could sustain life.
Knickerbocker says: “We had found a way to slow down the dying process, and give people time to receive defibrillation”.
Knickerbocker began to work with a Cardiac Surgeon – Dr Jim Jude who worked in the lab next door nad they worked together to perfect the compression technique and found they were able to extend the dog’s life for an hour.
They dicovered that pushing on the chest could simulate nearly 40% of normal cardiac activity and they were keen to see if this could be applied to humans. A year later, a young female patient was admitted for a gall bladder operation and went into cardiac arrest. Dr Jude saved her with the chest compressions and she went on to make a full recovery.
The team published a paper in 1960 stating that “Anyone, anywhere, can now initiate cardiac resuscitative procedures,” the authors concluded. “All that is needed are two hands.”
In collaboration with another research group who were looking at ventilation techniques, they developed modern CPR.
‘Knickerbocker is philosophical about their achievement. “After everything died down, I never dwelled on our work in the lab that often. But I was happy and proud that it had worked out so well.”
“Then, recently, I saw some statistics on the internet, counting up the number of people successfully resuscitated using CPR. It was over five million. I was astounded, of course.”
He adds wryly, “This doesn’t take into account numerous pets around the country that have also benefited from chest compressions. But it’s still a lot.”‘