New Equipment Means Better Chance for Heart Attack Victims

Reporter: Shannon Samson

Patients who are showing signs of a heart attack need an electrocardiogram as soon as possible.

Paramedics have been able to perform these tests in the field since the late seventies, but advanced testing had to wait until they got to the emergency room. That's not the case any more with an equipment upgrade to the Medtronic Lifepak 12.

Aboard American Medical Response ambulances, paramedics and EMTs see plenty of heart attacks that fall into the category of myocardial infarction. They happen when plaque that's built up inside the arteries break away and a clot forms that ends up blocking blood flow to the heart.

AMR clinical coordinator Lee Turpen says,  "It's extremely critical. We use the adage 'time is muscle' in getting that blockage alleviated."

That used to mean getting to the ER as soon as possible so the patient could get what's called a 12-lead ECG. Only then, the patient could go to the cath lab for angioplasty that gets the blood flowing again. Now because of this machine, that middle step is eliminated. Turpen says, "In a lot of cases we're rolling straight through the emergency room and into the cath lab."

The Medtronic Lifepak 12 is an ECG monitor that allow paramedics to perform the 12 lead test in the ambulance. Turpen says, "Over the course of about 12 seconds, it's going to look at the heart and tell us whether or not it believes, from an ECGG perspective, that a myocardial infarction is occurring."

The crew can tell not just if an MI is happening, but where inside the body. So they can call ahead to hospital with specific information so the cath lab can be prepped and the staff put on standby.

It saves anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes and that saves heart muscle. Turpen says, "It will decrease mortality in some cases and will decrease morbidity in that some of these patients will need less cardiac rehab because they'll have more heart muscle salvaged. Fifteen minutes can make a big difference."