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Heart Attack Do's and Dont's

Updated: Monday, February 10 2014, 10:18 AM CST

In Illinois, more people die from heart disease than anything else. 32,000 people died in 2010, according to the American Heart Association. But how you react in those first few moments of an emergency could determine whether you live or die. We take a look at a disturbing new trend of people driving themselves to the hospital while having a heart attack.
It all began with a not-so-normal day for Girard resident Daryl Howard. 320 feet underground and two miles away from the entrance of the mine shaft.

"I thought I could do it longer than I could, but it didn't work out that way," Howard said.

He was struck by pain.

"I had pressure in my chest and pain going down my left arm just to my elbow," said Howard

He didn't realize it - but those are the classic symptoms of a heart attack. His coworkers knew he needed help fast, so they called 911.

"I was waiting for a backboard but there wasn't going to be a backboard in this case," said Howard.

The company EMTs rushed him to the surface.

Then, not one, but two different ambulance services provided the urgent care he needed to get him to the hospital.

"Daryl's vein that was blocked was called the widow maker. Generally that doesn't end well if you have that," said Cathy Howard, who is now able to look back at this whole ordeal.

Daryl and Cathy Howard have been married nearly 46 years, and they said the paramedics did everything right

"Because there is no reason why he should have made it. He shouldn't have made it to the hospital, but he did," said Cathy Howard.

Bob Kayma of America Ambulance Service says that's one of the best reasons to call 911.

"So immediately we are going to do on the scene is take an initial EKG of their heart rhythm. We do a 12-lead EKG which is the same type of EKG they do in the ER. And then we immediately send it by cellular technology so doctors can see it in the ER," said America Ambulance service paramedic Bob Kayma.

Not only can an ambulance get you to the hospital faster, but paramedics can give you the same drugs you would get in an emergency room: drugs like aspirin, plavix and nitroglycerin.

"What it is is a vaso dilator, so we give that to people who are having chest pains and it opens up all of those vessels and helps to provide oxygen to the heart." explains Kayma.

Yet not everyone turns to 911 when they are having a heart attack.

Memorial Medical Center has seen this alarming trend.

"Our data is about 60/40. 60 percent drive themselves in, 40 percent come by ambulance. And that hasn't changed in any sort of statistical significance in the last few years," said Memorial Medical Center ER physician Dr. David Griffen M.D.

Griffen is not the only one who's noticed. The trend is also evident at St. John's Hospital.

Last year at St. John's Hospital, 54 percent of patients having a heart attack arrived in an ambulance, and 45 percent walked in.

And those statistics haven't changed much over the last few years either. In 2011, 48 percent of heart attack patients arrived by ambulance and 52 percent walked in.

Experts say a big part of the problem is that people still don't know the warning signs.

"Typically, pain in the chest, heaviness in the chest, squeezing in the chest, hurting in the chest with radiation usually up to the jaw, to the shoulders, to the back, down the arms, sometimes into the hands" said St. John's Hospital's Director of Cardiac Cath Lab, Dr. Gregory Meshkel M.D.

Meshkel notes that symptoms can be atypical for some people too, like women or diabetics.

But more often than not?

"People interpret it as heartburn, indigestion, burping, profound fatigue. You may break out into a sweat be short of breath." said Meshkel.

That is exactly how Ron Sheckler thought. He thought he had a bout of heartburn, but the problem was that it wouldn't go away.

"I felt when I woke up I had a pain in my chest. It felt like a golf ball stuck in my chest. I thought it was heartburn," said Sheckler.

Despite the fact that Sheckler smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, his wife thought he was healthy. But in that moment, Sheckler was having a heart attack

"I truly did feel that if I drove in I could get him there faster than an ambulance could get him there," said Sherri Sheckler.

So they jumped into their car and drove in from Loami, with Ron Sheckler behind the wheel.

"It may seem strange, but something in me just told me to drive, do not get in the passenger seat and lay down and go to sleep or close my eyes. The next thing is to stay awake and drive against my wife's better judgement," said Ron Sheckler

Even though he was afraid he would die, he wasn't thinking clearly.

"I had a couple of cigarettes on the way in because I was nervous that I could possibly be having a heart attack." said Ron Sheckler.

Within minutes of his arrival to St. John's emergency room, Ron Sheckler was whisked to the catheterization lab.

"In our business we have the saying 'time is muscle,' and the idea is that you want to restore blood flow as quickly as possible," said Meshkel.

Meshkel not only treated Daryl Howard when he had his heart attack, but he also treated Ron Sheckler.

Meshkel shows us exactly what he saw when Ron hit the table.

"This is in Ron's case, we know he was having an inferior wall mi--a heart attack that was occurring on the bottom part of the heart. And that is about 80 percent of the time caused by a blockage in the right coronary artery," said Meshkel.

Meshkel identified the blocked arteries, and within 15 seconds he passed a wire to the artery to restore blood flow. For Ron Sheckler, it took 40 minutes to place three balloon stents in his heart and restore blood flow. 40 minutes to save Ron Sheckler's life.

"I treated it like is was nothing until the time they told me it was a heart attack." said Ron Sheckler.

As for Daryl Howard, he neglected to take his high blood pressure medications on a consistent basis. He says not doing that forever changed his life.

"Dr. Mishkel said it caught up with me," said Daryl Howard.

Heart Attack Do's and Dont's

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