How I learned one of life’s most important skills in just 30 minutes

Cardiac arrest  survivor Lynda Donaldson with Stephanie Leckey of the British Heart Foundation demonstrating life-saving CPR skills Cardiac arrest survivor Lynda Donaldson with Stephanie Leckey of the British Heart Foundation demonstrating life-saving CPR skills
By Francesca Ryan


I’ve just learned the most important ‘life lesson’ that I’m ever likely to receive – and it took me just 30 minutes.

I took part in a new initiative aimed at teaching people across Belfast to perform life-saving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) skills.

Relatively few groups in the city have taken part in the British Heart Foundation-led CPR training, which is free to all community groups and schools. Now the drive is on to get those numbers up – and I agreed to get on board.

With this Friday (October 16) being ‘Restart a Heart Day’, a Europe-wide day aimed at teaching members of the public CPR, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) here is encouraging as many schools and community groups as possible to teach their pupils CPR with their ‘Call Push Rescue’ kits, an innovative training pack that allows people to learn CPR in just 30 minutes by following a DVD.

I was offered the opportunity to learn the skills myself, courtesy of the BHF, and thought I would go along and find out how to do something that I’ve only ever seen on TV.

The first thing I learned, rather to my surprise, is that a heart attack and cardiac arrest are not the same thing – like most people I’ve used the terms interchangeably in the past. But a person having a heart attack is aware they are having it and, while they may be in pain and distressed to various degrees, will be able to broadly understand what is happening to them and outline their symptoms. With a cardiac arrest, however, the person’s heart has stopped and that person is totally incapacitated, unresponsive – and effectively dead. CPR is the process by which the heart is ‘re-started’ and the person is ‘brought back to life’. Sounds scary but it makes sense. I took a deep breath and stepped forward.

My fear when seeing CPR performed in the past was always that the person performing CPR could be hurting the patient with all that vigorous pressure and maybe even making thing worse. But no, the person is ‘dead’, there is not much you can do to make things any worse.

As we watched a DVD, Stephanie Leckey, BHF’s Area Development Manager and a cardiac nurse, frequently paused to explain. She took questions and then it was time to perform CPR on inflatable mannequins.

The good news is that it’s not hard. Two breaths into the patient’s mouth and 30 hard pushes on the chest bone is the rule and I performed it without difficulty. Literally, within 30 minutes I had learned the most important lifesaving skill I am ever likely to learn. The simplicity of the video and the very instructive explanations and interventions of Stephanie really did make it a very accessible skill – quite simply, it’s one that everyone should know.

I hope I never have to use it but if I do, I’m confident I can put the skills learned in to practice and do all I can to save a life.

Anyone interested in getting this essential skill into a school or community group can log on to for more information.