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SHERIDAN — Just six months after opening a cardiac catheterization lab at Sheridan Memorial Hospital, seven patients have been successfully treated for a heart attack and 110 other patients have benefitted from diagnostic or non-emergent interventional cath lab procedures.
“So far, these numbers are ahead of our projections for the year,” hospital CEO Mike McCafferty said.
Three years ago, Sheridan Memorial Hospital recruited board certified cardiologist Michael Brennan to the community from Billings and began fundraising efforts to establish a state-of-the-art cardiac facility and cardiac program.
Last year, board certified cardiologist Joseph Garcia joined Brennan and in January 2013, the cath lab was opened.
A significant gift from the Lorraine Husman Trust designated for cardiac care and a generous donation from the Sheridan Memorial Hospital Auxiliary has allowed patients to have access in Sheridan to the same heart testing and treatment typically found in regional medical centers: nuclear stress testing, pacemaker and defibrillator implants and management, cardioversions, echocardiography, transesophageal echocardiograms, cardiac catheterization, and angioplasty and stenting coronary interventional procedures.
Prior to Sheridan Memorial Hospital employing cardiologists and developing a fully equipped cardiac program and state-of-the-art cardiac catheterization lab, area residents suffering a heart attack were merely treated with a blood clot dissolving agent and transported to a regional facility. Blood clot dissolving drugs are only about 50 percent effective in restoring blood flow to the heart. Also, the delay in treatment caused by transporting patients to another facility is likely to result in more permanent damage to the heart and increased risk of death.
Olga Nostrand who suffered a heart attack a few months ago was initially hesitant about having her cardiac care provided in Sheridan and asked to be transported to a regional medical center where she had received prior cardiac medical services. Emergency air transportation was not available that evening due to severe weather conditions and to make matters worse, the blood clot dissolving drugs that were administered to Nostrand did not restore the blood flow to her heart as anticipated.
With Nostrand’s medical condition even more urgent, she resolved to have her cardiac care provided locally and the cath lab team was called in to do an emergency interventional procedure.
“Ironically, Olga likely came out much better receiving the needed treatment right here in Sheridan,” her husband, Dave Nostrand, said. “She has come out of this experience very well, but if the services she needed had not been available in Sheridan, she may not have survived. How fortunate the Sheridan community is that these services even exist here.”
Having cardiologists on staff and a cardiac catheterization lab at Sheridan Memorial Hospital means that most heart attack patients will receive the optimum heart attack treatment available and, they will receive it more quickly. Coronary intervention is 95 percent effective in opening blocked or narrowed coronary arteries and restoring blood flow to the heart, which also leads to a greater chance of the patient surviving.
“A heart attack occurs when an artery supplying blood flow to a region of the heart becomes completely blocked and that part of the heart which is supplied by this blood vessel starts to die,” Brennan explained. “Most of the damage of a heart attack occurs within the first couple hours, so the clock starts ticking from the moment symptoms begin occurring.”
The American Heart Association, with the help of a significant grant from The Helmsley Charitable Trust, also recently provided funding to local emergency medical services to purchase equipment that has the ability to transmit 12-lead EKGs (heart rhythms) from the scene directly to Sheridan Memorial Hospital’s emergency department for interpretation by a physician. The sooner the emergency department physician is able to diagnose a heart attack, the sooner the cardiac catheterization team can be called in. Once a heart attack patient arrives at the hospital, the goal is to get the patient into the cardiac catheterization lab as quickly as possible and perform a coronary intervention procedure to re-open blocked arteries to the heart within the national standard of 90-minutes. So far, emergent coronary intervention times at Sheridan Memorial Hospital have been faster than the national average and well below the 90-minute standard.
“Another important aspect of treating heart attacks is getting the help of the community to convince individuals having heart attack symptoms to seek immediate medical attention by calling 911,” Garcia said.
Garcia added that it is best for patients not to drive themselves to the hospital or have someone else drive them, saying that calling 911 is almost always the fastest way to get life-saving treatment. Upon arrival to the scene, the emergency medical services team is in constant communication with the hospital’s Emergency Department physician and can begin some treatments. They are also trained to revive someone whose heart has stopped.
Heart attack symptoms can vary person to person. Most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help. Acting at the first sign or symptom of heart attack, can save lives and minimize heart damage.
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