A physical fitness buff who’s well informed about health issues, Tom got out of bed and took his blood pressure. “It was higher than normal,” he says, “but after I had something to eat, things settled down.” With plans to Rollerblade around Mile Square Park shortly after dawn, he returned to bed.
But when Tom rose at 6 a.m., he knew his early morning plans were out of the question. Not only was he sweating, but his jaw felt tight, he was short of breath and an uncomfortable pressure radiated from his chest down his left arm. “I knew I was having a heart attack,” says Tom, who immediately called 911, opened the front door so the paramedics could get in and laid down on the living room couch. The paramedic team found him there, fully conscious and sweating profusely.
As soon as Tom arrived at Orange Coast Memorial, the emergency room team swung into action. Within three minutes, they’d taken blood samples to check for chemical markers that indicate heart damage, performed an electrocardiogram (ECG), conducted a brief physical exam, and asked him about his symptoms and medical history. Then a medical catastrophe occurred: The lower chambers of Tom’s heart began to quiver instead of beat, preventing them from contracting properly and pumping blood. Known as ventricular fibrillation, this electrical malfunction resulted in sudden cardiac death. “Among the most serious early complications of heart attacks are arrhythmias,” says Chief of Emergency Medicine Robert Realmuto, M.D. “These disturbances can result in sudden cardiac arrest, accounting for nearly one out of every three deaths from heart attacks.”
Orange Coast Memorial emergency personnel were ready for every possibility—including this one. Using a defibrillator, they administered electrical shocks to Tom’s heart, accompanied by CPR. Minutes later, he regained consciousness, amazed to see the flurry of activity surrounding him. “They told me I’d died and been brought back to life,” he says. I owe my life to the great emergency care I got at Orange Coast Memorial.”
But the emergency department was only the first stop in Tom’s treatment. Shortly after he was resuscitated, the long-time salesman underwent cardiac catheterization and angioplasty. “This method of unblocking clogged or narrowed arteries with a balloon-tipped catheter can substantially reduce the amount of damage done to the heart muscle by a heart attack,” says Steven Schiff, M.D., chief of cardiology at Orange Coast Memorial. “The sooner angioplasty is performed, the better the patient’s chances are for a successful recovery.”
To ensure the best outcomes, the hospital is staffed and equipped to perform balloon angioplasty within 90 minutes of the time a heart-attack patient enters the doors of the emergency room. With a median “door-to- balloon” time of only 86 minutes during second quarter 2007 (April through May), the hospital’s cardiac cath lab surpasses national standards. “We’re prepared to care for even the most complex cardiac cases without delay,” says Dr. Schiff.
For Tom, cardiac catheterization revealed that a major artery supplying blood to his heart was 100 percent blocked. During angioplasty, doctors cleared the blood vessel of fatty deposits and implanted a stent to keep it open.
Today, Tom has returned to his vigorous lifestyle—but with some important changes. “I’m working less and taking more time with family and friends,” he says. “I’m so grateful I’II have a chance to see my five grandchildren grow up.”