Feb. 21, 2014 at 8:44 PM ET
The sight of a woman frantically giving CPR to her tiny, 5-month-old nephew along a busy Miami highway is enough to instill fear into any parent.
After the dramatic photos went viral, many asked if they knew what to do to save their own children. The answer, said Dr. Robert A. Berg, one of the world's leading experts in CPR, is simple: "Do something."
Too many people, he said, are afraid to make a mistake with CPR. They call 911 and wait. "And I guarantee that if you do not do anything, and that child's heart has stopped, he won't live."
All too often, small children die needlessly. According to Berg, about 6,000 children per year suffer what's called out-of-hospital, non-traumatic cardiac arrest. The cause could be a stuck piece of food, a bit of vomit blocking an airway, mucus from a cold. Survival among infants who suffer such cardiac arrest is about 3.3 percent. It could be much higher.
Photographer Al Diaz said he took the pictures in Miami after helping the family "in the hopes that it will inspire someone to take up CPR in the future."
A person whose heart has stopped will appear "lifeless," said Berg, chief of critical care medicine at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. But if there's any doubt, Berg said, do full CPR alternating chest compressions with breathing.
According to American Heart Association guidelines Berg helped create, a lone rescuer should perform 30 chest compressions, two mouth-to-mouth or mouth-to-nose breath resuscitations, and repeat the cycle, preferably while another person calls 911. (If there's nobody else, start CPR before calling 911 yourself.)
Begin with the compressions. Without fresh blood, the brain will be damaged. The chest compressions should be "aggressive," Berg said.
Guidelines call for two fingers on the lower sternum for small children, but Berg doesn't want people to worry so much about that. Pressing hard enough to break a child's bones isn't all that easy, and if one does break, "that's OK," given the alternative of death.
Berg passionately encourages people to take a basic CPR course and suggests that ideally, anybody who looks after children should know the basics. But even without training, people should not hesitate.
"If you do something whenever somebody is lifeless and unresponsive, you have a chance to save a life. If you do nothing, you've lost that chance."