Fast action saves man from heart attack

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Record time: Doctors at Ingalls Memorial Hospital, including interventional cardiologist Dr. Abed Dehnee (left), helped save the life of Jerry Wathen, 67, of Park Forest, by installing in record time a balloon-type catheter to open an artery after Wathen suffered a heart attack in December. | Supplied photo

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Every second counts during a heart attack, when doctors race the clock to perform angioplasty, a lifesaving

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treatment for the most serious types of heart attack.

The term to describe this heroic effort is “door-to-balloon” time, the minutes it takes from the time a patient arrives at the hospital until his or her artery has been reopened — and blood flow restored — with a balloon-tipped catheter.

The American College of Cardiology standard is 90 minutes or less, but doctors at Ingalls Memorial Hospital recently beat this by a whopping 30 minutes — even when the patient had to be transferred from Ingalls Urgent Aid in Flossmoor to the main hospital in Harvey.

It all began when 67-year-old Jerry Wathen, of Park Forest, arrived at the Flossmoor Urgent Aid Center Dec. 3, after experiencing discomfort in his neck and back at his home.

“I felt an ache across the back of my neck and shoulders, and I thought it was arthritis from sitting over the computer too long,” he explained. “I went to work and then my hands started shaking. I guess my color looked terrible too because when my co-worker came in that morning, she insisted on taking me to Ingalls in Flossmoor.”

Once Wathen arrived, staff sprang into immediate action and performed an electrocardiogram that showed a very serious kind of heart attack called a STEMI (ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction).

Each year, an estimated 450,000 patients have a STEMI, which is caused by a sudden decrease in blood supply due to a blocked artery and affects a large area of the heart.

Wathen needed an angioplasty, requiring a transfer to Ingalls Memorial Hospital first.

Fortunately, Ingalls has its own ambulance service available at each of its three Urgent Aid Centers.

Within minutes, Wathen was in the ambulance and en route to the emergency department at Ingalls Memorial Hospital, where he was met by cardiologist Imtiaz Hamid, M.D., who confirmed the initial STEMI diagnosis.

“A heart attack never crossed my mind,” Wathen added. “I really thought the pain was from arthritis.”

Rescuing the ‘widow maker’

Wathen was then whisked to the hospital’s cardiac catheterization laboratory where interventional cardiologist Abed Dehnee, M.D., performed a lifesaving angioplasty to reopen the 100-percent blocked left anterior descending artery (LAD) — commonly known as the “widow maker” — and implanted a drug-eluting stent to keep the artery open.

“Time is of the essence when a patient experiences a STEMI,” Dr. Dehnee explained. “If the artery is completely occluded, it can cause a massive myocardial infarction and lead to sudden death.”

Wathen arrived at Ingalls Urgent Aid in Flossmoor at 8:51 a.m., and his stent was in place and blood flow restored just one hour later at 9:51 a.m., including a six-mile ambulance trip from Flossmoor to Harvey.

“Clinical studies have shown that the best outcomes occur when the patient is treated in 90 minutes or less, “ Dr. Dehnee added. “Re-opening a blocked artery within this window of time decreases the likelihood of heart damage and future complications.”

Because of the rapid care he received, Wathen sustained no heart damage and was released within a day or two.

“His prognosis is very good,” Dr. Dehnee added.

“I always thought I was in great health,” Wathen said. “I’m grateful for the wake-up call.”

Since the heart attack, he has given up smoking and is more vigilant about keeping his blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check.

If you or someone you know is at risk for heart disease, visit www.Ingalls.org/MyHealth and click on HeartAware to take Ingalls’ free online heart and vascular risk assessment. The assessment takes about 10 minutes to complete and provides important information about your personal risk factors.

For more information about cardiovascular services at Ingalls or for a referral to a heart specialist, call Ingalls Care Connection at 708.915.CARE (2273).

Provided by Ingalls Health System