How did cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) begin?

Leigh Vinocur, MD
Emergency Medicine
In the late 1800s and early 1900s there were reports of successful resuscitations using some external chest compressions (Drs. Fredrich Maass and George Crile). However, it wasn’t until the late 1950s and early 1960s that scientific evidence showed exhaled air in mouth-to-mouth was sufficient to sustain good enough oxygen levels needed to breathe (Drs. James Elam and Peter Safar).

In addition, if this was coupled with external chest compressions, which created an adequate blood pressure, this technique was sufficient to resuscitate individuals, thus allowing some victims to survive (Drs. William Kouwenhoven, Guy Knickerbocker and James Jude). This coupling of mouth-to-mouth and chest compression was presented at the annual Maryland Medical Society in 1960. It became what we know as CPR today.

So in 1963, the American Heart Association (AHA) formally endorsed it, along with the American Red Cross, which helped to establish standardized trainings and protocols. It’s now estimated that about 12 million people, both healthcare professionals and lay people, are trained in CPR each year.

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