The Story of the First CPR Manikin

How an Urban Legend is Born Around the Death of Two Girls

Resusci Anne. Image by Aorta, user.

Resusci Anne is the first CPR manikin ever created. There is a widely distributed urban legend that changes depending on who's telling it, but the meat is usually the same. Essentially, legend claims Resusci Anne is modeled after the daughter of the doctor who created CPR. Depending on the version, she either drowned or died of asthma.

Like any good urban legend, there are some kernels of truth in there.

Asmund Laerdal was a Norwegian toy maker who was known for using rubber and early soft plastics to create mock injuries for the Red Cross. He created Resusci Anne. How that happened is what legends are made of.

Peter Safar was one of the doctors researching mouth to mouth. Safar joined forces with another anesthesiologist and mouth to mouth advocate, James Elam. At some point, they hooked up with a couple of electrophysiologists, William Kouwenhoven and Guy Knickerbocker, as well as a cardiac surgeon, James Jude. The group developed cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

Life Sized Doll

Safar was an advocate of teaching CPR to the masses. He believed that laypeople could perform what many thought only a doctor could do. Clearly, he was right.

What they needed was a patient to practice on, and that's where Laerdal came in. At some point, Safar and Laerdal got together. There's a bit of fuzziness here, but the clear part is that the two men worked out how to use Laerdal's expertise as a toy maker to create a doll that folks could use to practice CPR.

A female was chosen because it was believed that men at the time (1960) wouldn't be willing to put their mouths on the mouth of a male doll. Here's where the legend gets lost. As the story typically goes, the doll is modeled after Safar's daughter. Nope. Resusci Anne is modeled after a girl who died of drowning, but she lived long before Safar.

L'Inconnue de la Seine

Sometime around the turn of the 20th century, an unidentified woman was pulled from the Seine River in Paris, France. She was supposedly in pretty good condition and without injury, which suggested to the medical examiner that she had committed suicide. Her age was estimated at around 16 years old.

Someone at the morgue in Paris made a plaster cast of the young woman's face, what's known as a death mask. Nobody truly knows why the death mask was created. It might have been to help identify her or it might have been because the coroner thought she was beautiful or unique in some way and wanted to save her features before the body was destroyed.

No one ever identified the girl, but the death mask became somewhat of a coveted art object in Europe. She was known as L'Inconnue de la Seine (Unknown from the Seine) and copies (not all of them cast from the original so there are variations) were sold everywhere. She was considered quite stunning and became a picture of beauty, especially in Germany and France.

Laerdal discovered this face. According to the Laerdal Corporation's website, he saw a copy hanging in his parents' home. Laerdal reportedly felt this was the perfect face for Resusci Anne.

Elizabeth Safar

Dr. Safar did have a daughter, Elizabeth. She died of asthma at the age of 11 in 1966. Reportedly, Dr. Safar focused on keeping blood flowing to the brain during resuscitation attempts in his later years. The fact that Elizabeth fell into a coma after an asthma attack was credited as the reason Safar wanted to keep brains healthy during CPR.

Elizabeth died after Anne was created and she wouldn't have been old enough for the manikin anyway. Elizabeth did die of a respiratory issue, but it wasn't drowning.

The evolution of CPR manikins continues and there are plenty of options on the market.

Resusci Anne is still widely used. Chances are, you've met Anne and possibly even performed mouth to mouth on her.