How to Stop a Heart Attack in its Tracks

News Archive April 20, 2009

How to Stop a Heart Attack in its Tracks

Loyola Heart Attack Response Team Performs Emergency Angioplasty in 35 Minutes
MAYWOOD -- Michael Gorham was riding his bicycle when he was hit by a massive heart attack. But just 35 minutes after Oak Park paramedics dropped Gorham off at Loyola University Hospital, Dr. John J. Lopez stopped Gorham's heart attack in its tracks. Lopez performed an emergency balloon angioplasty to reopen a major coronary artery that was 100 percent blocked. The procedure immediately restored blood flow, and Gorham made a dramatic recovery. He went home two days later. Eight days after his heart attack, he was back on his bike. "I am deeply grateful for the focus and speed of both the Oak Park paramedics and the Loyola cardiac team," Gorham said. "They literally saved my life." Hospitals around the country are striving to save heart attack patients by reducing their "door-to-balloon" times to 90 minutes or less. Loyola has helped lead the way by launching a Heart Attack Rapid Response Team (HARRT). Loyola is the first hospital in Illinois to have an interventional cardiologist and other members of the response team at the hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "Mr. Gorham's case is a textbook example of how the HARRT program can save hearts and lives," Lopez said. Lopez is a professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. Unlike Loyola, most other hospitals do not have cath lab teams on site during nights and weekends. Thus, precious time is lost when the team has to be called in from home -- especially during bad weather. Loyola is partnering with emergency management services in local communities to significantly shorten the time period from when a 911 call is placed to when the patient receives state-of-the-art treatment. "The HARRT program is unique in that it provides a rapid response, day and night," Lopez said. "This can truly transform care for heart attack patients." During a heart attack, a blockage in an artery stops blood flow. Heart muscle begins to die due to lack of blood and oxygen. An emergency angioplasty can reopen a blocked artery and restore blood flow. The procedure does the most good if done within one hour of the patient's arrival, known as the Golden Hour. After three hours, there may not be enough benefits to justify the risks of the procedure. "Time is heart muscle," said Dr. Fred Leya, medical director of Loyola's cardiac catheterization lab. "The sooner we can open the artery, the better." Before his heart attack, Gorham had experienced no symptoms of heart disease. Gorham, 64, is industry professor and director of the Center for Financial Markets at the Stuart School of Business at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He was working from his Oak Park home late in the afternoon when he took a break to do an errand. He hopped on his bike to buy a friend a birthday book in downtown Oak Park. He peddled hard, because he didn't have much time. "Suddenly, I felt like I was running out of juice," he said. He was having a heart attack. In addition to feeling pressure on his chest, Gorham was clammy and nauseous. He got off his bike, lay down in the grass and called a nurse friend, who told him to call 911. The paramedics arrived almost immediately, and rushed Gorham to Loyola with the sirens blaring. Oak Park is among the growing number of municipalities that have equipped ambulances with 12-lead EKG machines. En route, paramedics administered an EKG, which confirmed Gorham was having a heart attack. They radioed results to the emergency room, which gave the HARRT team a head start. At the hospital, a staffer cut Gorham's shirt off with a scissors, and he was whisked down the hall to the cardiac catheterization lab. "It reminded me of an episode of ER," Gorham said. "These guys didn't waste a second." Gorham's left anterior descending artery -- the largest artery that supplies blood to the heart -- was completely blocked. Lopez threaded a catheter (thin tube) from an artery in Gorham's groin up to his heart. When the catheter reached the blockage, Lopez inflated a balloon at the tip of the catheter to open the artery. He then placed a stent (wire mesh tube) to keep the artery open. "Mr. Gorham had a very large heart attack that could have damaged a significant amount of heart muscle," Lopez said. "Fortunately, the amount of damage he wound up having was very limited." Lopez added that the case illustrates the importance of calling 911 right away if you think you are having a heart attack.
Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.
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