Bet you’ll never guess what 81-year-old Joy Tomkins of Norfolk, England, has tattooed over her heart in big blue capital letters: “DO NOT RESUSCITATE.” Kansas City pathologist Ed Friedlander, MD, has “No CPR” front and center on his chest. Melissa Boyer of Nashville, Michigan, got a tattoo that declares her a type 1 diabetic with allergies to penicillin and aspirin.
But here’s the rub: The markings don’t carry much medical weight. “Unless there’s strong supporting information, such as a legal document stating otherwise, we would begin lifesaving treatment, regardless of a tattoo,” says David Ross, DO, an emergency physician with the Penrose–St. Francis health system in Colorado and spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians. Though emergency responders may take into account tattoo alerts of allergies or diseases, they wouldn’t serve as complete medical background.