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Illustration: John Ritter

Disco Lives

Back in 1977, when Saturday Night Fever came out, Alson Inaba, M87, and his pals used to cruise around Honolulu in his Cadillac Sedan DeVille with the film’s chart-topping tune “Stayin’ Alive” cycling through the speakers. Nearly three decades later, it occurred to him that the song could, in fact, help people stay alive.

Inaba, now an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine and head of the Division of Pediatric Emergency Medicine at the Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women and Children, in Honolulu, explains that in 2005, he was preparing a grand rounds presentation and decided to include a skit: one resident would suddenly collapse, whereupon a group of others sporting dark glasses, gold chains, and a boom-box blaring “Stayin’ Alive” would rush up and perform CPR. It was just a way to liven up his teaching at first, but then he got to thinking. “Stayin’ Alive,” he realized, has “about a hundred beats per minute—the same rate the American Heart Association recommends for CPR chest compressions.” So people attempting chest compressions might find it easier to maintain the optimum tempo if they played “Stayin’ Alive” in their heads.

Recently, the AHA itself has adopted the idea, securing the right to use the BeeGees hit and launching a “Stayin’ Alive” campaign. Everything about it reflects the mix of gravity and fun in Inaba’s original skit. The official icon is a white disco suit modeled on the one John Travolta wore in the movie. And the national three-year, twenty-four-city promotional tour features a van and trailer complete with a whirling mirror ball, as well as a sound system perfect for promoting disco-based CPR to dozens of people at once.

Based on an article by Bruce Morgan, in Tufts Medicine (Fall 2012)

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