Mobile project aims to increase bystander use of CPR

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is an emergency procedure that can save a person’s life by maintaining blood circulation until medical help arrives. But according to a team from Penn’s Center for Resuscitation Science, only 15 percent of bystanders in Philadelphia will perform CPR if they see someone in need.

Nabil Abdulhay and Konstantinos Totolos are trying to improve that statistic as coordinators of the Mobile CPR Project run through the Center for Resuscitation Science in the Perelman School of Medicine. Four years after it was founded, the Project, which is funded by the Independence Blue Cross Foundation, has trained 3,693 people in Philadelphia, with a goal of reaching 10,000 by mid-2019.

“Normal CPR classes take three, four hours and they cost up to $80 for a certification,” says Abdulhay, who joined Penn in July 2017. “On top of teaching the mechanics of CPR [for free], we try to dispel myths, like that you can get sued or you will hurt the person. Understanding your role as a bystander makes people more comfortable with doing CPR.”

A successful pilot of the program in Hartford, Conn., which ended in April 2015, educated more than 5,000 people in underserved communities, prompting the Mobile CPR Project to return to Philadelphia. In the past six months, Abdulhay and Totolos, along with a slew of volunteers, have led up to four events every week and have reached more than 1,900 people.

In their fully loaded van, they travel to community centers, churches, block parties—anywhere there’s a need and a desire to learn CPR techniques. A typical class ranges from 10 to 35 individuals, and always includes Mini Anne, the inflatable practice dummy “saved” by all participants.

“If it’s a normal classroom training, we bring all the materials, and each person gets their own mannequin,” Abdulhay says. “We start the class with a general introduction about the importance of CPR, especially in Philadelphia, then we use an American Heart Association video as interactive instruction.”

Participants are taught proper hand placement, depth, and rate of chest compressions, signs of cardiac arrest, steps leading to CPR, and the truth about the most pervasive myths. For example, under Good Samaritan laws, bystanders cannot be sued for doing CPR, regardless of the outcome. It’s also very unlikely they would injure a person by pressing too hard on his or her chest.

What the CPR students won’t learn is mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

“That’s one of the deterrents we talk about,” says Totolos, who also joined Penn this past July. “People don’t want to do rescue breaths. There are some instances when you would have to, but the majority of cases you wouldn’t. If you’re not trained in it and you’re not practicing it, it could actually hurt rather than help the patient.”

Each class ends with an exercise where participants run through the entire CPR process—including 120 seconds of chest compressions.

“It’s usually the best part of the class,” Abdulhay says. “People don’t realize that pushing for two minutes at 100 to 120 beats per minute, at proper depth and pressure, is actually hard work. It’s usually enlightening.”

And that’s the whole point: to increase the CPR knowledge level and confidence in as many people as possible, because having this skill could save a life.

For additional information about the Mobile CPR Project or to schedule a class, contact the coordinators at or view their trainings calendar

Mobile CPR Project