A 16 year old girl swimmer died after a lifeguard stopped CPR when she started breathing again. She thought that she had saved her life a Coroner heard…


Heart specialist Dr Christopher Duke said Sophie ‘would have survived’ if she had received continuous CPR. He said ‘You don’t stop resuscitation just because a patient appears to be breathing. You only stop if there’s breathing and a pulse.’

The coroner Catherine Mason said she would write to the Resuscitation Council of the UK, which provides guidelines for life-saving techniques, to ask it to amend its training guidelines to include checking for a pulse.

The inquest herad Sophie’s initial cardiac arrest was caused by an undiagnosed herat condition.


The Casualty could have easily re-arrested causing death. Detecting a pulse (or the absence of one) would have identified the need to continue CPR. However, it is likely the first aider misinterpreted ‘Agonal’ breathing (which is a sign of dying) with ‘Normal’ breathing (a sign of life). If this is the case, ineffective training may be the problem not the first aider or the Resuscitation Council’s guidelines.

A first aider is not a medical professional and in this the case the first aider has acted in good faith and within her training. Overall, the first aider deserves praise for her actions, not critics.

(Note: AoFA comments are take their basis on reported news items as stated below.)

UK Resuscitation Council Guidelines:

Studies have shown that pulse checking is difficult and unreliable especially for laypersons including first aiders. Indeed some years ago, basic life support (BLS) training removed from its guidelines pulse check and checking for ‘Signs of Life’  and replaced it with a single ‘Normal Breathing’ check. This change was designed to simplify and improve the outcome of CPR.

Agonal Breathing:

Agonal breathing is present up to 40% of pre-hospital cardiac arrests. It is important that first aiders can recognise agonal breathing.

Agonal breathing can sound like gasping, snorting, gurgling, moaning or laboured breathing. It is NOT ‘normal’ breathing.

If in doubt, do CPR. It is better to do CPR when not needed that not to do CPR when needed!

First Aid Training:

Make sure your training emphasises the difference between normal and agonal breathing.

First Aid for Life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information. We strongly recommend that you attend a first aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency.

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