FACULTY: UH Pediatrics professor Alson Inaba takes center stage at “Stayin’ Alive” National CPR Awareness Week event

National CPR Awareness Week kicked off June 5  in New York City with a Hawai`i medical school teaching innovation packaged up and presented with Hollywood flair.  Dr. Alson Inaba, University of Hawai`i John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) Professor, was part of an elaborate media event in New York City that featured dancers in all-white 1975-era suits (like the one John Travolta wore in Saturday Night Fever) and mass demonstrations of the disco-derived CPR teaching technique that Dr. Inaba created in a JABSOM classroom seven years ago.

Dr. Inaba boogied and flashed a shaka with the "Stayin' Alive" Dancers in NYC

The American Heart Association (AHA) National CPR Week Kick-Off recognized Dr. Inaba, pictured above with Hollywood actress Jennifer Coolidge, for creating the “Stayin’ Alive” method, which has become a life-saving phenomenon. The AHA has adopted the Bee Gees’ hit and Inaba’s technique in international video public service announcements and uses the Travolta-suit logo as a key element of its CPR public education campaign.

“The Tip from Honolulu Heard Around the World”

Dr. Inaba, who was ferried around the Big Apple in limousines to do TV interviews with Good Morning America and NBC News before the kick-off event, was nearly overwhelmed by the publicity, which also included interviews with The New York Times, Men’s Health and others. Everyday Health called Inaba’s innovation “The Tip from Honolulu Heard Around the World”.

” “I still cannot fully comprehend how my one little idea of using the beats in the tune ‘Stayin Alive’ to teach the correct rates for chest compression has exploded worldwide,” said Inaba.  “Today’s event launches a three year, 24 city tour of a customized CPR vehicle that will tour the nation.  I’m glad that lives are being saved and that this easy-to-remember technique of performing CPR is giving more and more people the confidence to perform CPR on victims of sudden cardiac arrest,” said Inaba.

Dr. Inaba with Florida resident Tom Elowsen (left) who used Inaba's technique to save the life of Tom Maimone, right.

In one of the most meaningful parts of the kick-off event, Inaba met a man who’s life was saved by his teaching method. Tom Maimone suffered cardiac arrest in April 2009. He was revived by Tom Elowsen, of Florida, who had never taken a CPR lesson but had seen a news segment about the “Stayin Alive” technique a few months earlier. Elowsen decided to give it a try, and saved Maimone’s life. There have been similar  stories related to Inaba’s technique reported not only in the U.S., but in Canada and Britain, where the heart association’s counterparts produced a public-service video featuring “Stayin’ Alive” in 2011.

How the Stayin’ Alive method was born

Dr. Inaba is professor of pediatrics and an emergency department pediatrician at Kap’iolani Medical Center for Women & Children, where UH’s Pediatrics Department is based. He came up with the concept of using “Stayin Alive” to liven up a learning session at JABSOM in 2005.

“I don’t like boring presentations, so I created a skit in which one student walked up onto the stage and suddenly collapsed. Then a group of MD medical trainees, sporting dark glasses, gold chains and a boom box blaring “Stayin’ Alive” rushed up to the stage to perform CPR,” said Dr. Inaba.

“My teaching point was ‘let’s do everything we can to help this guy stay alive’. That got me to thinking about the beat of ‘Stayin’ Alive’, which has about 100 beats per minute — the same rate the AHA recommends for CPR chest compressions”.

JABSOM medical students practiced on robot patients, and before long, “they were humming and strutting releasing their inner John Travolta”, Inaba added. “After the word got out in the 2006 Currents publication for CPR instructors (and eventually the media), I was shocked to hear from people from around the world who had adopted the practice, from an Emergency room nurse in Alaska to a hospital CEO in Botswana, Africa,” Inaba added.

National media kick-off

The New York City kick-off featured a number by the Travola-suited “Stayin Alive” dancers, testimonials by people whose lives have been saved by the use of the technique and a session in which Inaba and others demonstrated CPR. Inaba also was asked to give glamorous actress Coolidge a personal CPR lesson. It wasn’t Inaba’s first brush with celebrities. In his youth, he performed magic as a warm-up act with headliner David Copperfield at C’est Si Bon in Honolulu, before Copperfield went on to international stardom.

About Dr. Inaba

Inaba has received much professional recognition, including the Leonard Tow Humanism in Medicine Award presented during the MD Convocation for JABSOM’s 2011 MD graduating class. His “Stayin’ Alive” teaching method has saved countless lives, documented by first-person survivor accounts.  Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in the U.S., with nearly 300,000 out-of-hospital cases reported annually.  Since about 80 percent of victims collapse at home, according to the AHA, knowing CPR can literally keep a family intact.

“We believe Dr. Inaba’s work is representative of the innovative teaching to be found at the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine,” said JABSOM Dean Jerris Hedges, MD.  “And we couldn’t be prouder of Dr. Inaba’s continuing role in helping to promote life-saving CPR.”


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