Inaba Has Got the Beat

Inaba Has Got the Beat

By Cindy Murphy McMahon, BA’74

What do the Bee Gees song Stayin’ Alive and Uptown Funk featuring Bruno Mars have in common, besides being chart-topping hits from their respective eras? The ’70s iconic disco song and the more modern, feel-good pop tune both have a beat that can literally save lives.

So says a Creighton graduate who has had a lot to do with getting that word out.

Alson Inaba, MD, BS’83, has been recognized for developing a CPR protocol to the tune of Stayin’ Alive, used worldwide to resuscitate people who experience sudden cardiac arrest. Recently, the University of Hawaii medical school associate professor of pediatrics started using Uptown Funk in his CPR-training classes for medical students and pediatric residents.

In June, Inaba was honored with the American Heart Association’s (AHA) inaugural Innovation at Heart award. At the ceremony in Dallas, Inaba rolled out his “update,” doing CPR chest compressions to the beat of Uptown Funk, which was popularized by recording artist Bruno Mars in 2014.

“The younger generation isn’t as familiar with the Bee Gees song,” Inaba says, “so I wanted to find something they could relate to better.”

After graduating from Creighton in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in biology, Inaba attended medical school at Tufts University. In addition to teaching at the University of Hawaii, he is a pediatric emergency room physician at the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children in Honolulu.

Inaba likes to make lectures lively to maximize learning, first presenting a skit to Stayin’ Alive in 2005. The approximate 100 beats per minute — remember “Ah-ha-ha-ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive”? — is the same rate the AHA recommends for chest compressions. The song’s title and refrain made it perfect and easy to remember.

He was on a national AHA committee at the time, and within about a year, the AHA asked him to write an article about his technique. The idea caught on, and eventually the AHA procured song rights and produced international video public service announcements.

In one AHA video, actor-comedian-physician Ken Jeong headlines a hilarious yet instructive demonstration in which he deadpans: “Disco can save lives.” A YouTube search reveals many locally produced videos as well carrying the same message.

Hands-only CPR was approved in 2008, making it easier for the lay rescuer who encounters an adult or teen who suddenly collapses and is unresponsive. “You just need to follow two simple steps: No. 1, call 911, and No. 2, push hard and fast in the center of the victim’s chest at a rate of at least 100 compressions a minute. To stay on track, sing or hum Stayin’ Alive — or have someone nearby do it,” Inaba says.

“If you haven’t been trained in conventional CPR, hands-only CPR can buy critical time until the paramedics arrive with an AED (automated external defibrillator) to shock the victim’s heart into its normal rhythm.”

Would-be rescuers sometimes are afraid they’ll break a person’s rib, Inaba says. “But I tell them, you can’t hurt someone who technically is already dead. Don’t be afraid. They can recover from a broken rib, but without your help, it may be too late by the time paramedics arrive.”

In 2012, he was part of an elaborate media event in New York City for National CPR Awareness Week. Dancers wore all-white ’70s-era suits (like the one John Travolta wore in Saturday Night Fever) and performed the film’s iconic theme song.

The experience was a whirlwind for Inaba, who did interviews with ABC, NBC, the New York Times, Men’s Health magazine and others. The event launched a three-year, 24-city demonstration blitz.

A highlight for Inaba was meeting a Floridian who was alive because a stranger, untrained in CPR, had seen a Stayin’ Alive demonstration on the Today show and had the courage to try it.

To date, the teaching method has saved countless lives, and Inaba has many emails and other first-person accounts to show for it. In Hawaii, he especially has helped increase the number of AEDs and CPR awareness.

“The beauty is, you don’t have to be a doctor, nurse or paramedic,” Inaba says. “Each day about 1,000 people suffer sudden cardiac arrest in the U.S. If you have the courage to start CPR, you can double or triple their chances for survival.”