Restart a heart

Saving lives from cardiac arrest requires big changes

Cardiac arrest can strike anyone, anytime, anywhere, at any age, without warning. A cardiac arrest is when the heart stops beating. In Canada, there are 35,000 cardiac arrests every year, and less than 10% of people who have an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survive. 

When an automated external defibrillator (AED) and CPR are used, survival is doubled. AEDs are easy to use, portable devices and will only shock when needed.

Too many lives are being lost to cardiac arrest unnecessarily. Heart & Stroke, together with funding partners, has placed more than 15,000 AEDs in communities across Canada since 2010. We’ve trained hundreds of thousands of Canadians in CPR and AED use. 

But this important investment has yet to be fully realized and to pay dividends – in saving lives. We know that to drive long-lasting, higher impact changes that save more lives, we need to focus on making bigger changes.

Restarting hearts

Because of its sudden, unexpected nature, cardiac arrest needs an emergency care response system that removes barriers for bystanders to respond quickly – every second counts.

Lives can’t be saved if bystanders are reluctant to act, don’t know CPR and AEDs don’t work, can’t be found, or people are afraid to use one.

Bystanders may not act if they are:

  • Unsure if CPR is the right thing to do
  • Unconfident about their CPR skills
  • Uncertain due to fear of doing harm, failing or being sued
  • Uneducated about how to do CPR
  • Unwilling due to feeling they are unqualified to help.

Changing systems to make AEDs available, accessible and rescue-ready will make the biggest, lasting impact. Currently, people who want to help save a life face many challenges: 

  • Unavailable or inaccessible: AEDS are not readily available where a bystander would expect to find them (i.e. in public places) or are inaccessible for public use (i.e. locked away).
  • Unmaintained or uninspected: AEDs are not consistently maintained or inspected, so they may not work when needed.
  • Unregistered: Many AEDs are not registered, or registry systems simply don’t exist, so locations aren’t known. 
  • Unlinked: Registries are not integrated with 9-1-1 response systems which would allow dispatchers to direct bystanders to their nearest AED.
  • Unclear: Civil liability protection for individuals and AED owners or locations is not known or well understood. 
  • Unused and unknown: AEDs are not used due to lack of information and because of misinformation.
  • Unaware: Too many Canadians are unable to recognize a cardiac arrest and are unwilling to help because they don’t know what to do or are concerned about not being trained, getting sued, or hurting the person.

Estimated number of cardiac arrests each year in Canada

9 in 10

Out-of-hospital cardiac arrests result in death. Survival drops significantly with every minute without CPR or an AED. 

x 2

The chance of survival doubles when CPR or an AED are used

How system changes can save lives

Addressing the underlying systems by working with governments to remove barriers is the best way to ensure large scale, lasting changes that will make real impacts into the future.

We are working with policy and decision-makers in governments at all levels to help shape pre-hospital emergency cardiac care response systems, and to encourage supportive legislative and regulatory frameworks. We’re also working hard to improve bystander awareness and response.

Impactful system change requires a coordinated, collaborative and multi-stakeholder approach – including opinion leaders, resuscitation experts, and people who want to help. If we work together we can:


Teach Canadians how to identify cardiac arrest


Educate people how to act quickly, and make AEDs available and accessible


Improve system performance through better monitoring and surveillance

Our goals
  • Increase survival rate by 50%
  • Double CPR bystander rate
  • Double AED use rate.
What are we asking governments to do?

Government regulations and policies mandating AEDs in strategic public places, and the registration and maintenance of defibrillators are required. Integrated regulations and policies directly impact the ability of bystanders to respond quickly and effectively to cardiac emergencies through the use of AEDs coupled with performing CPR.

Governments can:

  • Develop and implement central registries
  • Pass legislation, policies or guidelines to protect and strengthen public access to defibrillators
  • Increase public awareness and education with help from Heart & Stroke
  • Encourage quality improvement in emergency cardiac care response systems.