New Procedure Makes 911 Even Faster Option For Heart Help

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- Ignoring even those small signs that could signal a heart attack could be a life or death mistake.

Very few people suffering a heart attack have the stereotypical gripping chest pain, says Barbara Columbus, RN, BSN, acute coronary syndrome program manager at Topeka's Cotton-O'Neil Heart Center. However, that doesn't mean their heart attacks aren't as damaging. She says recent studies show the severity of symptoms does not necessarily correlate with the severity of the heart attack and, by not taking the initial signs and symptoms seriously, people could delay treatment.

Part of taking your symptoms seriously is calling 911 for an ambulance, rather than driving yourself to the emergency room. Columbus says while driving might get a person to the hospital more quickly, it won't get them to treatment more quickly.

It's well known that EMS crews can start medications and tests to help a heart attack patient in the field, but Stormont-Vail recently took that a step further, collaborating with EMS personnel to implement field activations of the ER's heart attack team. Columbus says, rather than waiting for an ER doctor to review the EKG that EMS sends in from the field, EMS personnel have gotten additional training to make that call and, if they believe the patient is suffering a heart attack, they can instruct the ER to activate the heart attack team.

It's a step that saves time. Dr. Lambert WU, a cardiologist with Cotton-O'Neil Heart Center, says supplies and equipment need to be readied and personnel to transport a patient to the cardiac catherization lab need to sent, so the earlier everyone knows what needs to be done, the quicker they can prepare.

Since implementing field activations, Columbus says Stormont has cut in half the time it takes heart attack patients arriving by ambulance get to the cath lab to open their clogged artery. She says the median time is 26 minutes for ambulance arrivals versus 45 minutes for patients who drive themselves.

Dr. Wu says that time is crucial, since, for every second blood flow is not getting to the heart muscle, heart muscle is dying.

Some heart attack symptoms are vague, like shortness of breath or pain in the jaw. Columbus and Wu agree that if you feel something that's unusual for you, call 911.