Chest pains? Don't drive. Call 911
Signs of a heart attack
-- Discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a couple of minutes or that comes and goes. People can have sensations that feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or burning.
-- Pain or discomfort in jaw, neck, arms, back or stomach.
-- Shortness of breath, anxiety, fatigue, sweating, nausea or lightheadedness.
JANESVILLE Wednesday was the first time Janesville resident Eugene Martin had a heart attack while TV cameras were rolling.
But it wasn't his first heart attack.
In fact, it wasn't even a real one. Martin was just pretending.
The 76-year-old volunteered to play a starring role in a staged, mock heart attack at Farm & Fleet. It was an exercise organized by Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center in Janesville, the Janesville Fire Department and the American Heart Association.
The group staged an emergency response to a heart attack, from the initial call to 911 by a Farm & Fleet manager to paramedics testing and transporting Martin to Mercy Hospital to cardiac technicians receiving and treating Martin for a major heart artery blockage.
The purpose of the exercise was to increase public awareness about what to do when you think you're having a heart attack.
Their message was simple: Don't drive yourself to the hospital. Instead, call 911.
The groups say it's faster and safer, and trained paramedics have equipment that can be used to check your heart on the spot—sending details of your condition to the hospital before you arrive there.
That means heart specialists will be ready and waiting for you, saving precious time if you have a life-threatening heart blockage as Martin did earlier this year.
Besides the simulated one Wednesday, Martin has had two heart attacks—including a major one Sept. 16.
Martin in September had what is known as an ST-elevation myocardial infarction, or a STEMI heart attack. It's a serious type of heart attack caused by a sudden, total blockage of the coronary or artery. Martin's coronary was 100 percent blocked.
Martin was in his living room when he felt some chest discomfort. It got worse fast.
"He went white as a sheet," said Martin's spouse, Shirley Martin. "I knew then he was in fright."
Shirley Martin called 911 right away. Within minutes, paramedics from the Janesville Fire Department arrived at the Martins' home on Nicolet Street, which is just blocks from a fire station.
Paramedics hooked up Martin to a 12-lead defibrillator, a device that can take heart readings on the spot and send them electronically to a local hospital.
By the time paramedics transported Martin to Mercy Hospital, the hospital's cardiac cath lab team—a crew of physicians who specialize in STEMI heart attacks—already had details on Martin's condition and were assembled and ready to treat him.
"The paramedics saved my life," said Martin. "They made it from my house to the ER in four minutes."
According to the Society of Chest Pain Centers, 85 percent of heart damage occurs within the first two hours of a heart attack.
Heidi Rye, a nurse and cardiology coordinator at Mercy Hospital, said calling 911 can save 20 minutes compared to a person driving himself to the hospital because paramedics do necessary testing ahead of time and doctors are ready.
Those minutes are crucial.
"For every minute that passes, the heart muscle is getting less oxygen and is causing more damage to that person," Rye said. "The more minutes we can save, we're preserving that heart muscle, and that's crucial."
Janesville Fire Department Shift Cmdr. Scott Morovits, who was monitoring the mock heart attack Wednesday, said calling 911 allows emergency responders and dispatchers to gather details as crews are responding, such as whether you have a history of heart attacks.
Morovits said it can be a bad idea to try to drive yourself to a hospital during a heart episode because you can lose consciousness while driving, potentially injuring yourself or others.
Officials at Mercy Hospital and Trauma Center say calling 911 at the first signs of a heart attack can save 20 minutes from the time between the onset of symptoms to diagnosis and treatment.
That's because paramedics can test your heart on the spot and send results electronically to the hospital, allowing heart specialists to treat the patient faster.
Still, Mercy reports 50 percent of patients with major artery-blockage heart attacks come to the hospital as walk-in patients. That means they're transporting themselves instead of calling 911.
It's a slower process when each minute counts, hospital officials say. The hospital estimates a patient with a major artery-blockage heart attack who is brought in by 911 responders has an average 52-minute wait between admission and treatment. If the patient drives himself, the same process takes about 72.5 minutes.