Dr. Archer Gordon Is a Tireless Evangelist for CPR, a Technique for Saving People 'Otherwise Dead'
At 57, Dr. Archer Gordon is still playing with dolls. But the California heart specialist has reason to be fond of an entire line of mannequins named Resusci-Anne, Resusci-Andy and Resusci-Baby.
Dr. Gordon helped develop the Family Resusci to serve as realistic yet noncomplaining practice dummies for students learning cardiopulmonary resuscitation, more familiarly known as CPR. It is a lifesaving technique designed primarily for reviving victims of heart attack, but which has also proved effective with drowning, choking or drug-overdose victims who have neither pulse nor heartbeat.
The ABCs of CPR are straightforward enough: (a) keep the victim’s airway open by raising the neck and pushing down on the forehead, (b) restore breathing through mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and (c) simultaneously restore circulation by external cardiac compression, which involves steady, rhythmic pressure on the breastbone.
A certain amount of training for CPR is imperative. Dr. Gordon warns that improper technique can fracture ribs, lacerate lungs and even rupture the heart. In one extreme instance would-be rescuers (two policemen) pounded on a victim’s chest and killed him. “We recognize the risk,” Gordon admits. But he argues that it is justified on a victim “who is otherwise dead.” Properly administered within the first four minutes, CPR is given a 25 to 30 percent chance of reviving victims of cardiac arrest, Gordon says.
Until 1973 fear of liability suits restricted the use of CPR pretty much to trained medical personnel. Then, owing largely to Gordon’s efforts to popularize the technique, organizations like the Red Cross and the Heart Association began to offer CPR courses. Today an estimated six and a quarter million Americans have taken them. “It’s better to teach a lot of people a little CPR,” Gordon believes, “than to teach a lot to a few.”
From the start Dr. Gordon realized “students can’t practice CPR on each other because it’s hazardous and painful.” He collaborated on Resusci-Anne, Andy and Baby with Asmund Laerdal, a Norwegian doll maker who had earlier developed mannequins for students to practice mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. (Because some people are repelled by the idea of kissing a dummy, Laerdal modeled his on classic Scandinavian lines, figuring that “everyone’s attracted to blonds.”)
Dr. Gordon came to his task of promoting CPR with both an M.D. degree and a Ph.D. in physiology from the University of Illinois. A native of Aurora, Ill. (his father was in the wrecking business), he eventually settled in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where he and his wife, Pansy, reared three sons.
Over the years Gordon’s name has become so closely associated with CPR research that he is often thought of as its “father.” The doctor modestly disclaims that role, explaining that CPR evolved from the work of a Johns Hopkins research team and others. Though himself a heart attack victim (he underwent open-heart surgery a year ago), he still works as the medical director of Gould, Inc., a medical-instruments company, and continues to volunteer for CPR education. He has made more than a dozen training films. When asked why he gave up his own surgical practice, Dr. Gordon answers, “I can’t stand the sight of blood.” Then he adds seriously, “I was fortunate to get into a field like this in which my research provides dividends immediately. It’s been very satisfying.”