Sharon leans on a fence at the pig-breeding farm where she works. She gave chest compressions to a customer, helping to save their life.

Sharon gave chest compressions to a customer, helping to save their life.

If a person is unresponsive and not breathing they are in cardiac arrest. This means their heart has stopped pumping blood around their body. If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is used within three to five minutes of them collapsing, it can produce survival rates as high as 50-70 per cent.

There is no denying the life-saving power of an AED – but behind it is the life-saving power of people.

AEDs in the news

You may have heard about AEDs or defibrillators. They’ve been in the news a lot because people want to see them in more public spaces, like schools, due to their life-saving abilities.

An AED is a machine that can shock the heart of a person who is unresponsive and not breathing, back into a normal rhythm.

They are already available in many public spaces like stations and work places. And they are easy to use: when you switch on an AED, it will tell you exactly what to do and when. You just have to follow the voice prompts.

The British Red Cross welcomes efforts to make AEDs more widely available. But while the power of AEDs to help save lives is undeniable, it’s crucially important to remember that equipment alone will not save lives.

For an individual to have any chance of survival, the first person on the scene must know what to do, be confident enough to do it and act quickly. Like Sharon Mew.

“I feel so proud”

Sharon works at a busy pig-breeding farm in Devon. One day, a customer had pre-arranged to pick up his order directly from the facility with his father.

But shortly after arriving, his father had a cardiac arrest and dropped to the floor in front of Sharon. As he was unresponsive and not breathing, she knew she had to act quickly.

“Immediately I called 999 and got some of the lads working to assist me,” Sharon said.

“We needed to get the gentleman away from the car and on to his back so I could help by giving him chest compressions.

“All the time I was doing chest compressions I had the emergency services on loud speaker. They were a great help and made me feel even more confident, encouraging me to continue with chest compressions and reassuring me that help was on the way.

“On the first couple of compressions, I could feel I’d broken a couple of ribs, but I knew that the most important thing was to keep going and keep blood circulating.

“With the help of Luke, my co-worker, who I quickly showed how to do chest compressions, we managed to help the gentleman until the emergency services arrived.”

An air ambulance arrived and took the man to hospital where he made a full recovery. He was fortunate to have been in the presence of someone who knew what to do, had the confidence to act, and acted quickly. Sharon had learnt first aid with the Red Cross.

“Without the first aid skills I learnt, I don’t know if I would have been so level headed when this happened,” Sharon said.

“I feel so proud that I was able to give him his life back. He and his family hold a special place in my heart.”

First aid for someone who’s unresponsive and not breathing
  1. Check for breathing by tilting their head backwards and looking and feeling for breaths.
  2. Call 999 as soon as possible, or get someone else to do it.
  3. Push firmly downwards in the middle of the chest and then release.
  4. Push at a regular rate until help arrives.

Learn first aid for someone who is unresponsive and not breathing when an AED is available.

The power of people

People have the power to save lives. The Red Cross supports wider public provision of AEDs but crucially is calling for more opportunities for people to learn first aid throughout their lifetime, starting at school as well as through the driving test and public health initiatives.

We’ve also launched our learn and share initiative, asking you to pledge to learn one simple first aid skill and share it with others. Who knows, you could help save a life just like Sharon.