EVERY SECOND COUNTS: Heart attack patient is grateful for EMTs trained for cardiac care

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Debbie Clark knew something was wrong. The sharp pain radiated from her arms to her shoulders and neck—even up into her jaw.

“But nothing in my chest,” she recalled.

So, surely it couldn’t have been a heart attack, right?

After about 15 minutes of extreme pain, a co-worker called 911. Oldham County EMS arrived at American Bank Equipment on Mattingly Road in Buckner where Clark works for her son.

“They came in and it was like they knew,” the 60-year-old grandmother of four said.

It was indeed a heart attack.

An electrocardiogram performed by EMTs confirmed the diagnosis, and they sprung into action. Doctors at Baptist Health Louisville (formerly Baptist Hospital East) were called and told to expect a heart attack patient and to open the catherization laboratory.

Barely more than an hour later, stents were placed in two of Clark’s arteries, and her heart’s rhythm returned to normal, leaving behind little damage.

Thanks to quick action, Clark’s life was saved. And her 15-year-old granddaughter Olivia, 15, is grateful.

“I would miss her if she left me,” Olivia said. “She helps me with everything.”

Debbie Clark did everything right, and is the one patient cardiogologist William Dillon points to as the example all heart attack patients should follow.

Unfortunately, many Kentuckians do not seek help quickly enough and do not survive acute heart attacks, otherwise known as ST Segment Elevation Myocardial Infarctions, or STEMIs.

Kentucky tops only one other state in patients surviving such heart attacks, and is nearly a full 2 percent higher in the prevalence of heart attacks among its residents than the national average.

Through a pair of new initiatives, Baptist Health Louisville is looking to turn those numbers around. The goal is to get patients to a life-saving angioplasty, a balloon treatment that is the most effective treatment for heart attack patients if administered within 90 minutes of arriving at a hospital.

The first program will allow EMTs to “activate” the catherization lab—where angioplasties are performed—without first transmitting electrocardiogram data to hospital doctors. That project ultimately demands a protocol shift among EMS units by allowing all EMTs to perform EKGs on patients they suspect are having heart attacks.

Paramedics performed an EKG on Debbie Clark, but were unable to transmit the data to the hospital. Dr. Dillon said the Oldham County EMTs were trained well enough to know Clark was having a heart attack and activated the cath lab anyway. “They do a good job. I trust them.”

EKG training is expected to be rolled out to EMS units throughout the state by this summer. All Oldham County EMTs are expected to be trained to perform the tests.

That means improved response for county residents and a broader “scope of practice” for first responders, said Jamey Locke, interim director for Oldham County EMS.

“We think we will see an improved survival rate, as well as an improved quality of life for the residents,” he said.

It worked for Debbie Clark, who now lives in Smithfield.

Strangely enough, had she been home when the heart attack began, her doctor said she probably wouldn’t have survived.

Clark admits she likely would have made a dangerous mistake – assume the pain will go away and not call paramedics.

“I probably would’ve just laid down and thought it’ll go away,” she said.

Fortunately for Clark, she didn’t wait and had Oldham County EMS nearby to take care of her. “They couldn’t have been better,” she said. “I couldn’t thank them enough.”

Now, five months later, Dillon said Clark will make a full recovery and is not limited in any way. “I can still do everything I was doing, and I feel fine,” Clark said.

Clark now spends more time exercising with granddaughter, Olivia, walking a mile on the treadmill each night, an arrangement that is beneficial for both.

“I probably wouldn’t do it if I didn’t have the motivation,” Olivia said, pointing to her grandmother. “We help each other.”

Story by Drew Nichter. Email us about this story at: news@oldhamera.com.