The first time cardiologist Sonia Tolani performed CPR outside a hospital was in 2009.
She was on the subway in New York City, headed home from work, when she saw a man slump to the ground and stop breathing.
"It was super crowded, it was like rush hour," she remembers. "I just decided we needed to do something, and dragged him out into the center of the subway train [and] I just started doing CPR."
As she kneeled over him and started chest compressions, she called out to the packed train, "Does anyone else know CPR?" Anthony Medaglia, a hospital labor relations employee, agreed to help her and knelt beside her in his suit.
"The main thing about CPR is maintaining high quality, fast compressions," explains Tolani, "so you don't want to lose steam."
For about 10 minutes, they took turns pressing down hard and fast on the man's chest. At the next subway stop, emergency personnel were waiting with a defibrillator to shock his heart back to a normal rhythm. The man survived.
As news of the CPR rescue spread, Tolani's employer, New York-Presbyterian hospital, decided to take the opportunity to remind ordinary people that cardiac events usually happen outside the hospital, and help them remember the ideal tempo to perform CPR.
It also includes a playlist hosted by the music listening service Spotify, called "Songs to do CPR to." All the songs on the playlist have a tempo of 100 to 120 beats per minute, which is the same tempo at which one should give chest compressions during CPR.
The first song is Stayin' Alive by the Bee Gees.
The playlist does raise the question: What kind of monster would run to Spotify to listen to the Bee Gees before attempting to save a life?
Hopefully no one. The playlist is supposed to help people keep that ideal tempo fresh in their minds, so if they do end up performing CPR, they do it better. One hundred beats per minute is a pretty fast clip, and chest compressions are physically taxing for the person doing them, so there's a temptation to slow down. But CPR is less effective when the tempo lags.
As we have reported, past studies have suggested that having a metronome in the room while medical professionals are performing CPR can be helpful. As we've also reported, listening to music while doing CPR does not make people better at it.
For example, we wrote this about a 2011 study:
"Researchers compared the CPR technique of 74 paramedics, health care professionals and students planning to enter those fields, all of whom had completed CPR training. Each person gave chest compressions for three 1-minute intervals, while listening (in random order) to Disco Science, the country tune Achy Breaky Heart and silence.
Disco Science has a tempo of 105 beats per minute, while Achy Breaky Heart clocks in at 120. Previous research had shown that listening to a song with a beat in line with American Heart Association guidelines of at least 100 chest compressions per minute helped people maintain the proper rate, and that held true in this study.
"But getting the rate right isn't enough. Over half the compressions were too shallow."
Since this playlist is meant to be listened to beforehand and recalled later by people of multiple generations, there's a real incentive to make it a celebration of the many earworms between 100 and 120 beats per minute from the last four decades.
In addition to Stayin' Alive, Hanson's MMMbop, Michael Jackson's Man In The Mirror, Missy Elliott's Work It, Cyndi Lauper's Girls Just Want To Have Fun and Mariah Carey's Heartbreaker also made the list.
Another One Bites the Dust by Queen is one thematically interesting choice to include.
Alaina Paciulli of Seiden advertising company was one of the people who helped choose the songs for the playlist.
"We wanted them to be popular songs, wanted them to be songs that people already knew by heart," she says. "And we wanted them to span all types of genres."
"The whole point is just to have fun, and if you can save somebody's life while humming Missy Elliott's Work It, then that's OK with us!"
Paciulli says the playlist has about 3,000 followers at this point, and that they are considering updating it with newer hits.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
If you have a heart attack, the treatment may include the Backstreet Boys, the Bee Gees or Madonna. All these artists have songs with about the same tempo.
(SOUNDBITE OF METRONOME)
INSKEEP: There's the tempo, roughly 100 beats per minute. And NPR's Rebecca Herscher reports, that tempo can save lives.
REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: In 2009, Sonia Tolani saw a man collapse on the New York subway.
SONIA TOLANI: Oh, it was super crowded. It was, like, rush hour. So, you know, I just started doing CPR.
HERSHER: Tolani was training as a cardiologist at the time. She and another passenger traded off, kneeling over the guy giving hands-only CPR, which is what the American Heart Association recommends.
TOLANI: The main thing about CPR is maintaining, like, high-quality, fast compressions.
HERSHER: Between a hundred and 120 per minute.
TOLANI: It would be like, duh, duh, duh, duh. That would be it.
HERSHER: They did CPR for about 10 minutes until the train got to a station. And the man survived. And as the story got around, the hospital where Tolani worked, NewYork-Presbyterian, decided to make a playlist that would help everyone remember the right CPR tempo.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAYIN' ALIVE")
BEE GEES: (Singing) Whether you're a brother or whether you're a mother, you're staying alive, staying alive. Feel the city breaking and everybody shaking, and we're staying alive, staying alive.
HERSHER: This is the first track, by the Bee Gees.
TOLANI: The songs really do help. If you sing "Staying Alive," you know, you're going to be there - it's like, ah, ah, ah, ah. That's it. That's the beat. That's how fast you want to go.
(SOUNDBITE OF BEE GEES SONG, "STAYIN' ALIVE")
BEE GEES: (Singing) Ahh...
ALAINA PACIULLI: We wanted them to be songs that people already knew by heart.
HERSHER: Alaina Paciulli works for Seiden Advertising and helped choose the songs.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST")
QUEEN: (Singing) Another one bites the dust.
PACIULLI: So that's why the - the list is pretty varied.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ONE WEEK")
BARENAKED LADIES: (Singing) It's been one week since you looked at me, cocked your head to the side and said, I'm angry.
HERSHER: To be clear, this is not a playlist to go running for if you see someone have a heart attack. It's just meant to keep that perfect CPR tempo fresh in your mind in case. Past studies have suggested that listening to music while doing CPR is not helpful.
PACIULLI: You know, if you can save somebody's life while humming Missy Elliott's "Work It," then that's OK with us (laughter).
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WORK IT")
MISSY ELLIOTT: (Singing) Flip it and reverse it. (Unintelligible).
HERSHER: Right now, the playlist on spotify has about 3,000 followers. They're considering updating it with the latest hits. Rebecca Herscher, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ROCK YOUR BODY")
JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: (Singing) Don't be so quick to walk away. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.