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Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, or CPR, is a science and a practice that is still undergoing development, research, and understanding. The history of CPR starts well back in the 15th century.

Persia, 15th Century AD

As early as the 15th century, practitioners in Persia were experimenting with a combination of “strong movements and massive chest expansion” (for induction and support of breathing), and “compression of left side of the chest” (equivalent of today’s cardiac compression).

Early European practitioners advocated the “bellows method” to expand lungs as an artificial ventilation from the 1530’s to the 1800’s.

In 1775, a Danish veterinarian, Peter Abildgaard, discovered a lifeless chicken’s heartbeat could be restored with an electric shock.

1891, Maass advocates compressions

In 1891, German surgeon Dr. Friedrich Maass becomes the first to advocate chest compressions, rather than ventilation alone, to help with circulation. This insight and wisdom was slow to become adopted widely. The prior understanding, heralded by German physiologist Moritz Schiff’s, focused on massaging the heart during surgery to restore circulation. This cardiac massage continued to be the norm for almost 50 years more.

1933, Kouwenhoven and the current concepts

In 1933, Johns Hopkins University researchers, led by an electrical engineer named William Kouwenhoven, accidentally rediscovered external compressions when they found that putting pressure on a dog’s sternum provided circulation to the brain adequate to keep the animal alive. External defibrillation was the final key in their survival. Their results were confirmed in more than 100 more tests.

A canine patient in Kouwenhoven’s lab, revived by the team’s experimental combo: external chest compressions and defibrillation.

This experimentation by Kouwnehoven’s team would kick start what we consider to be the modern day concept of “CPR and AED usage”.

All of this would spawn the science behind the AHA BLS, ACLS, and PALS courses as well as the ASHI Basic Firs Aid and CPR/AED courses that CSRE offers.




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