ARLINGTON -- After Paul Davis surprised his wife, Betty, at work with a bouquet of flowers, he stopped by a south Arlington auto shop to get an oil change.
It was nearly the last thing he ever did.
Moments after arriving at the shop, Davis went into cardiac arrest and collapsed. Another customer began cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the unconscious Arlington resident while shop employees called 911.
"I put my keys on the counter, I signed in, and I sat down," said Davis, 77, recalling the Sept. 19 incident. "I woke up five days later packed in ice in the hospital."
Davis spent a month in the hospital and got to go home to his wife of 19 years. Not everyone is so lucky.
Bystanders perform CPR on a person in cardiac arrest in Arlington only 53 percent of the time, officials said.
City leaders are working to improve that with the goal of saving even more lives through an ongoing public education campaign to teach people how to perform hands-only CPR.
Arlington has also implemented changes designed to improve how quickly and efficiently 911 call-takers and emergency medical workers respond during cardiac arrest incidents.
Proper bystander CPR can double or triple a victim's chance of survival, according to the American Heart Association. Since 2005, the city has trained 41,000 people in how to perform the life-saving technique through its CPaRlington initiative.
'People are afraid'
"Cardiac arrest is one of the major reasons that people die in the United States," said Dr. Cynthia Simmons, Arlington's medical director. "Many people are afraid to begin CPR. They are afraid they might hurt somebody. The reality is, they won't hurt somebody and they may even save a life."
Instead of providing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, bystanders are now encouraged to give cardiac arrest victims chest compressions to maintain their pulse and blood pressure until emergency medical help arrives.
Last year, Arlington began airing 30- and 60-second public service announcements on local television, on the city's website, at movie theaters and at baseball games to teach people about the hands-only CPR method.
That campaign is paying off, city leaders said. Bystander CPR participation is up 10 percent from 2011, Simmons told the Arlington City Council this month.
Arlington 911 call-takers are also working to begin issuing CPR instructions over the phone more quickly than in previous years.
"We've been able to reduce that time by 53 seconds," Simmons said.
On average, it takes 4 minutes and 11 seconds for bystander CPR to begin, compared with the average delay of 5 minutes and four seconds in 2011. Simmons said the city's goal is to get that delay down to less than one minute after a person goes into cardiac arrest.
Both 911 call-takers and EMTs have also undergone training to avoid interrupting chest compressions. Exercises have included how to continue CPR nonstop during difficult maneuvers, such as hauling a patient down a staircase or loading a patient into an ambulance. A commander is now assigned to monitor CPR efforts second-by-second to reduce interruptions.
"When you stop compressions, you interrupt the blood flow to the heart and the brain, and that is detrimental to a person in cardiac arrest," Simmons said. "It is imperative we continue those compressions and do those compressions correctly."
Between June 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012, 17 of the 33 people who went into cardiac arrest in Arlington and who received CPR survived.
Paul Davis was one of those lucky ones. The emergency medical workers, the man who began CPR and the store employees who helped him were recognized with lifesaving awards by the city.
"We have preached the benefits of CPR to everybody," Betty Davis said.
Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578