Help for heart attacks in Summit County |

Help for heart attacks in Summit County

A new program recently implemented in Summit County aims to improve emergency cardiac care. The Cardiac Alert program – started Jan. 18 – should better existing medical services by identifying the type of heart attack and coordinating patient care faster through enhanced equipment and training. The new program includes participation from Summit County’s emergency medical service providers: Summit County Ambulance service, Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue, Red White and Blue Fire Department, Copper Mountain Fire Department and St. Anthony Summit Medical Center.

The goal of the program is to rapidly identify patients experiencing a specific type of heart attack – known as a ST elevation myocardical infarction (STEMI). The STEMI – one of three types of heart attacks – is the most serious, and is caused by a prolonged period of blocked blood supply. It is the most likely to lead to long-term disability or death.

Over the last few months, the county’s emergency medical service providers have been training with new protocols and improved cardiac monitors. New protocols include assigning specific jobs to each responder so they can work together in a “pit crew” style, according to Summit County Ambulance Service director Marc Burdick. The tasks – like setting up an IV or communicating with the hospital – provide teams with more organization so they spend less time on the emergency scene and transfer the patient to the hospital faster. Newly acquired monitors allow responders to access damage to the heart faster by showing the heart from many different angles.

“Time is of the essence,” said Marc Doucette, MD, director of the emergency department and Summit County medical services.

Burdick said the new protocol provides quick and early notification to hospitals. He said in cardiac care, the quicker the patient gets the blocked coronary arteries opened, the less damage to cardiac muscle is likely.

In Summit County, patients are sent to St. Anthony to be stabilized before being transferred to Denver, in case the patient requires treatment in a catheterization lab: a special room outfitted to perform catheter-based procedures. Frisco does not have one, likely due to the low incidents of the condition.

Burdick said STEMI heart attacks occur about 14-16 times a year in Summit County.

Burdick said Cardiac Alert programs are recommended by the American Heart Association, and he is excited to implement it in a rural area like Summit County. He said most metro areas already have the program in place.

“These types of protocols and systems are becoming widespread across the U.S., and have major potential to improve patient outcomes,” Burdick said.

The new protocol has already been used successfully. A few days after implementation, a 71- year-old visitor developed severe chest pain while skiing at Breckenridge. After EMS providers realized he was having a STEMI, he was stabilized at St. Anthony Summit before undergoing cardiac surgery at St. Anthony’s Central Hospital in Denver. He was discharged and is making a full recovery.

Both Burdick and Doucette said the key to success in the program is early recognition of a cardiac problem. They said people who think they – or someone they know – are experiencing a heart attack should call 911 immediately. People should not drive to the hospital themselves. Symptoms of a heart attack may include: pain, pressure or discomfort of the chest; shortness of breath; pain that radiates to the neck, jaw, back or arm; sweatiness, nausea and vomiting.

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