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When 'Good Samaritans' make bad situations worse

As someone trained in First Aid/CPR, I was horrified the other day to see a wannabe “Good Samaritan” lifting and cradling the head of cyclist who had hit the asphalt after a crash.

While their intention to comfort the injured victim was admirable, the fact is that their intervention by removing the cyclist’s helmet and, in the process, jostling the head, neck and spine about, might have caused serious medical complications beyond any injuries resulting from the impact with the pavement.

It reminded me of a “Rescue 911” episode from the 1980s, which inspired me to take a First Aid course so I’d know the right thing to do in an actual emergency. In the show, a driver proudly proclaims how he was the only one to stop and assist an injured police officer by removing the officer’s motorcycle helmet and cradling his head after he’d been shot and fallen to the ground.

Unfortunately, the officer ended up in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. It’s never stated in the show whether the permanent paralysis resulted from the initial gunshot wound or from the “Good Samaritan” needlessly moving the victim about after the fact. (To grossly oversimplify, some persons with a broken back or neck may recover fully if the nerves aren’t severed due to movement.)

The message I’m trying to convey is: If you come upon a traffic collision with injuries, call 911 and then DO NOT move the victim unless there is an imminent threat to life. Examples of the latter are a driver who is not breathing and must be removed from a vehicle to perform CPR, or if the automobile is on fire.

Now, if you truly have an altruistic desire to help others – including your family members and possibly yourself – take a first aid/CPR course today. Otherwise, you could do more harm than good in a real emergency.

Wheels columnist Eric Lai is trained in First Aid/CPR. He’s earned lifesaving citations from both the Canadian Red Cross Society and Toronto Ambulance/EMS.

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