Peter Safar

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Peter Safar, MD
Born 12 April 1924
Died 2 August 2003
Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania
Nationality Austrian
Fields Medicine
Alma mater University of Vienna
Known for cardiopulmonary resuscitation

Peter Safar (12 April 1924 – 2 August 2003) was an Austrian physician of Czech descent. He is credited with pioneering cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Early life

Safar was born in Vienna in 1924 into a medical family. His father was an ophthalmologist and his mother was a pediatrician. He graduated from the University of Vienna in 1948. He married Eva Kyzivat and moved from Vienna to Hartford, Connecticut in 1949 for surgical training at Yale University. He completed training in anesthesiology at the University of Pennsylvania in 1952. That same year, he worked in Lima, Peru and founded that country's first academic anesthesiology department. In 1954, he became Chief of Anesthesiology at Baltimore City Hospital.


Together with James Elam, he rediscovered the airway, head tilt, chin lift (Step A) and the mouth-to-mouth breathing (Step B) components of CPR and influenced Norwegian doll maker Asmund Laerdal of Laerdal company to design and manufacture mannequins for CPR training called Resusci Anne. Safar, who began to work on cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in 1956 at Baltimore City Hospital, demonstrated in a series of experiments on paralyzed human volunteers that rescuer exhaled air mouth-to-mouth breathing could maintain satisfactory oxygen levels in the non-breathing victim, and showed that even lay people could effectively perform mouth-to-mouth breathing to save lives. He combined the A (Airway) and the B (Breathing) of CPR with the C (chest compressions), and wrote the book ABC of Resuscitation in 1957, which established the basis for mass training of CPR.[1] This A-B-C system for CPR training of the public was later adopted by the American Heart Association, which promulgated standards for CPR in 1973.[2]

Other achievements

Other achievements included the establishment of the United States' first intensive care unit in 1958, at Baltimore City Hospital. In 1961, he went to the University of Pittsburgh, where he established its notable academic anesthesiology department and the world's first intensive care medicine training program. In 1966, he was deeply moved by the death of his daughter, Elizabeth, at the age of 12 from an acute asthmatic crisis. He initiated the Freedom House Enterprise Ambulance Service, one of the first prehospital emergency medical services in the United States in 1967 and together with Nancy Caroline M.D. developed standards for emergency medical technician (EMT) education and training, as well as standards for mobile intensive care ambulance design and equipment.[3] Freedom House Ambulance service employed young African-Americans who were deemed 'unemployable'. Several members of Freedom House went on to establish successful careers in EMS and public safety. He co-founded the World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine (WADEM) in 1976, which is dedicated to saving lives in major disasters. Safar stepped down from the chairmanship of anesthesiology at the University of Pittsburgh and founded the International Resuscitation Research Center (now the University of Pittsburgh Safar Center for Resuscitation Research) in 1979, dedicated to cardiopulmonary cerebral resuscitation (CPCR). With Nicholas Bircher he published a textbook on CPCR which became the international standard. In March 1989 he assembled an interdisciplinary team of researchers composed of the following individuals: Drs. Miroslav Klain (Anesthesiologist), Edmund Ricci, Ph. D. (Evaluation research) Ernesto A. Pretto, Jr. (Anesthesiologist), Joel Abrams Ph.D. (Engineering) and Louise Comfort, Ph. D. (Social Science), which became known as the University of Pittsburgh Disaster Reanimatology Study Group (DRSG). This research team in partnership with a team of Russian and Armenian physicians conducted the first international interdisciplinary disaster evaluation research field survey study of the earthquake in Armenia. The Armenia study led to a series of post disaster field studies by the DRSG in Costa Rica (1991), Turkey (1993), and Japan (1994). These studies helped to establish the 'Golden 24 Hours' of emergency response in disasters and inspired Norwegian Anesthesiologist and humanitarian Dr. Knut Ole Sundnes to establish in 1995 the Task Force of Quality Control of Disaster Management (TFQCDM), under the auspices of the Nordic Society of Disaster Medicine and WADEM. Safar practiced and taught clinical anesthesiology at Presbyterian University Hospital in Pittsburgh until the age of 65, but continued his research activities until his death. His lifelong goal was to "save the hearts and brains of those too young to die", and to improve the life-saving potential in disasters, a field he called 'Disaster Reanimatology'. In 1990 he appointed Dr. Ernesto Pretto as leader of the Disaster program.

In 1999, he was awarded the “Cross of Honor”, Austria’s highest civilian honor for his services in the field of medicine. He was nominated three times for the Nobel prize in medicine. On September 13, 2014, The Alliance of Germanic Societies of Pittsburgh honored him, as well.[4]

Safar died on 3 August 2003 in Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania from cancer.[5]

See also


  1. Petechuk, David (1999). "Time of death: Postponed". PittMed. October: 22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Srikameswaran, Anita (21 March 2002). "Dr. Peter Safar: A life devoted to cheating death". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 14 September 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Staresnik, Chuck (2004). "Send Freedom House". PittMed. February: 32–34.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. [1]"Dr. Peter Safar (1924-2003) was the very special honoree for his year. He was introduced by Robert Tate, President of the Austrian Society of Pittsburgh who lauded this Viennese born and educated Doctor for his life’s achievements in medicine. Dr. Safar has been honored world-wide for improvements in medical practice and advances in medical science. His achievements were wide ranging from the development of cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and as a founder of the nation’s first medical/surgical intensive care unit. Dr. Safar was chairman of the Anesthesiology Department, where he held the title of Distinguished Professor. In 1999, he was awarded the "Cross of Honor", Austria’s highest civilian honor for his services in the field of medicine."
  5. "Dear Friends and Colleagues" (Press release). Safar Center for Resuscitation Research. 4 August 2003. Retrieved 14 September 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Pretto, EA; Safar, P (1991). "National medical response to mass disasters in the United States. Are we prepared?". JAMA. 266: 1259–62. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03470090093038. PMID 1870252.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

External links