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The Race to Beat a Heart Attack


What can you do in 90 minutes? get a hair cut, cook dinner, get a good workout, or watch a movie. An hour and a half doesn’t sound like a long time, but 90 minutes could mean the difference between life and death when suffering a heart attack.

heart.jpgOchsner Medical Center is joining hundreds of medical centers around the country in the most ambitious project ever undertaken to care for those suffering heart attacks. Ochsner emergency and cardiology physicians have reduced the time it takes for a patient entering the ER to receive balloon angioplasty in order to reopen clogged arteries, which is called “door-to-balloon” time, to less than 90 minutes. And, very few medical centers in the country actually meet strict criteria to treat these heart attack patients in under 90 minutes.

Balloon angioplasty is a procedure that reopens clogged arteries by inflating a tiny balloon at the site of the blockage. Recent studies show this is the single best way to treat a severe heart attack if performed immediately. “The Cardiology Department at Ochsner has always emphasized a rapid response to patients with heart attacks. Achieving the 90 minute benchmark is critical as this procedure can cut a patient’s risk of dying by 40%, but only if it’s done within 90 minutes of the patient’s arrival at the hospital, the so-called ‘door-to-balloon’ time,” explains Dr. John Reilly, Associate Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Lab at Ochsner.

“According to a November 2006 study, if the balloon procedure is delayed three to 28 days after a heart attack, the procedure will not reduce the chances of death or a second heart attack over the next four years,” explains Dr. Reilly. In addition to emergency care, long-term results are dependent upon swift action by both the patient and medical staff.

Dr. Reilly goes on to say that “the most important thing to do if heart attack warning signs occur is to call 9-1-1 immediately. Don’t do anything before calling 9-1-1.” While some heart attacks are sudden and intense, others can start slowly with mild pain or discomfort. Often people aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help. Below are some heart attack warning signs that need immediate attention:

•Chest discomfort: Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
• Discomfort in other areas of the upper body: including pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach.
• Shortness of breath: May occur with or without chest discomfort.
• Breaking out in a cold sweat, upset stomach, nausea or light-headedness.

Ochsner Among the Best in the U.S. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recently ranked U.S. hospitals according to their “door-to-balloon” time. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that only about one-third of heart attack patients get angioplasty within a 90-minute window. Ochsner Medical Center is one of the hospitals that meets these strict criteria, providing emergency care to heart attack patients quickly enough to save lives.

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart muscle is reduced or stopped due to a blocked artery, most often with build-up of fat-like substances called “plaque.” Over 250,000 people a year have heart attacks caused by blockages in main arteries supplying the heart with blood. Of those, about 10,000 die in hospitals each year.

To find any hospital’s response times, please visit: www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov or www.jointcommission.com.

Dr. John P. Reilly earned his medical degree from Columbia University in New York City and completed his internship, residency and cardiology fellowship at the New York University Medical Center. He completed his interventional cardiology fellowship at the Scripps Clinic in San Diego, California. Dr. Reilly is board certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular diseases and interventional cardiology. He specializes in complex coronary and peripheral intervention, carotid stenting, valvuloplasty, limb salvage and renovascular hypertension. Dr. Reilly has been on staff at Ochsner since the summer of 2002. His particular professional interests include angiogenic gene therapy for chronic ischemia, drug-eluting stents and vascular brachytherapy. He practices at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, and can be reached at 504-842-3707.