How do we save a heart attack victim?

September 29, 2015 | by John Cahill, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

Bill Idasek’s story is similar to many people we treat for heart attacks. They don’t experience symptoms until the heart attack actually hits them.

“I had never felt anything like that in my life,” Bill told us. “At first I thought it was muscle pain. I tried to drink and stretch. It was strange. The pain got worse and worse. I got out of the truck and tried to get some air. A lot of things go through your mind. I couldn’t believe it was a heart attack, but I knew it was. I wasn’t going to ignore it.”

That was a life-saving decision. Bill, who was getting ready for morning meetings with clients, drove to our Lombard Health Center which offers Immediate Care services.

“The pain came back with a vengeance while I was going in,” recalls Bill. “I was in the full throes of it. It was comforting and quite impressive to see the speed and communication. It was a blur. Everybody knew what they were doing and before I knew it, I was in an ambulance.”

It’s good that Bill went right away for medical attention. The EKG reading showed an acute heart attack. That triggered a sequence of events that led to his timely treatment at Elmhurst Hospital.

For Bill, that meant 19 minutes, as in “19-minute door-to-balloon.” That’s what we use as the term to describe the time it took from the moment Bill reached Elmhurst Hospital until we inserted a stent (balloon) to re-open the blocked artery that was causing his heart attack.

The national standard of care to treat heart attack patients is within 90 minutes of arriving at a hospital. Here at Elmhurst, we average 56 minutes. Bill’s 19-minute treatment was a new hospital record.

It takes a team approach to achieve treatment times like that. Everybody – from the paramedics, to the nurses and technologists, to the doctors – knows their role in the process in order to provide prompt, state-of-the-art treatment for patients who need emergency heart care.

Here’s how we do it:

Those saved minutes start adding up before a patient arrives at the hospital. For example, before Bill left the Lombard Immediate Care, a cardiac alert was announced at Elmhurst Hospital which activated the heart attack team and prompted the Emergency Department (ED) and Cardiac Catheterization Lab (cath lab) to prepare for Bill’s arrival and treatment.

Typically, a patient goes to the ED for initial treatment and to confirm they’re having a heart attack. In Bill’s case, he bypassed the ED and went directly to the cath lab, where an angiogram (X-ray of the heart’s blood vessels) showed one of his three main arteries was 99 percent blocked.

We inserted a catheter with a clot extractor to grab and remove the clot that was blocking Bill’s artery and then inserted a stent to open the artery and restore normal blood supply to the heart.

Bill’s artery looked normal when we were done. An ultrasound showed his heart muscle was completely normal with no permanent damage. On top of that, he was in the hospital for only two days and went back to work about three weeks later.

Find out if you’re at risk for heart disease. Take a free five-minute test that could save your life.

Learn more about heart care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

John Cahill, MD, is an interventional cardiologist with Elmhurst Hospital and Midwest Heart-Advocate Medical Group.

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