Heart alert system leads to faster treatment for heart attack patients

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The moment a heart attack sets in, the clock starts ticking. "Heart muscle starts to die in a matter of minutes, so once you've had ten minutes worth of chest discomfort, you're starting to have heart muscle death," said OLOL Chief of Cardiology Dr. Bryan Hathorn.

The faster doctors can treat a heart attack, the better the outcome. To help patients get treatment faster, Our Lady of the Lake Hospital uses the heart alert system. It starts the moment you call 911 and an ambulance arrives. Paramedics can immediately start treatment and transmit an EKG to the hospital while en route. That heart reading goes to the hospital's emergency department, where the staff can activate a heart alert.

"It basically gets everyone together on the same page so we can quickly get over to the cath lab," said Dr. Ryan Cruz, a third year emergency medicine resident.

With the heart alert activated, everyone needed to treat a heart attack is in place and ready to start as soon as the patient arrives. "The goal at that point is to get that patient in the unit and get them to the cardiac catheterization laboratory," explained Hathorn. "We can put a catheter from their leg or through their wrist up to their heart so we can get a device in that removes the blood clot to get normal blood flow to the heart."

Once blood flow is restored, the heart attack stops. The whole process works like a well-oiled machine. Experts say treatment needs to happen within 90 minutes. With the heart alert, the Lake averages treatment within 40 minutes. Their fastest treatment time was 13 minutes.

"It's like running a play. If you know your role and you know your lines, you'll do well," said Hathorn.

Experts also stress that if you believe you're suffering a heart attack, do not drive yourself to the hospital. The mantra, "survive, don't drive" has become an important campaign.

"It's really important that they contact us first so that we can get in and evaluate them and we can get the ball rolling as far as alerting the teams," said EMS unit commander, Jon Brazzel.

By driving, Brazzel says a patient delays their care and even risks having a wreck if their condition worsens.

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