The sweating starts first. Nausea follows. Then comes a heaviness in the chest that won’t go away. Something is wrong and you need to get help.
“Nearly 1.5 million people suffer heart attacks each year in the U.S., and almost no one has a plan for what to do or where to go,” says Perry J. Weinstock, M.D., Director of Clinical Cardiology at Cooper University Hospital and past president of the South Jersey Regional Board of Directors of the American Heart Association. “The public doesn’t realize that how quickly you receive care to treat a clot or blockage causing your heart attack, and where you receive care, is absolutely critical.”
Research conducted over the past several years has pointed to the importance of limiting the time gap between the onset of heart attack symptoms and when treatment begins. The preferred or gold standard of treatment for myocardial infarction (a heart attack) is to open the blocked artery using percutaneous transluminal angioplasty (PTCA). During angioplasty, an intravenous catheter (tube) is inserted into the groin and carefully threaded up into the heart using specialized x-rays.
The procedure is performed without surgery in a cardiac catheterization laboratory and has proven to be the most effective way to open the artery, return blood flow to the artery, and the heart muscle, and minimize heart damage.
“The problem that arises is that not all hospitals can provide the care that is needed—and provide it quickly,” says Janah Aji, M.D., Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory.
The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology have established specific guidelines for heart attack care. These include restoring the blood flow to the heart muscle within 90 minutes of arrival at the hospital with a cardiovascular surgical team as emergency back-up.
“People are not aware that many community hospitals do not have catheterization labs or staff on site at all times,” says Dr. Aji. “Currently, there are only three hospitals in all of South Jersey that meet the criteria for emergency treatment—and Cooper is one of them.”
“We have the advanced technology, experienced staff and specific protocols in place to meet the targeted goal of 90 minutes or less ‘door-to-balloon’ time. Consequently, our cardiac catheterization lab has some of the best patient outcomes in the country,” says Dr. Aji.
This commitment to providing excellence in cardiac care extends to the entire South Jersey region because of the Cooper Transfer System (COTS).
“COTS has provided urgent transfer of acutely ill patients from community hospitals throughout South Jersey since 2002,” says Joseph E. Parrillo, M.D., Director of the Cooper Heart Institute. “This system allows us to provide broad access to advanced heart care.”
What advice do Drs. Aji and Weinstock give their patients about heart attacks? Plan ahead.
“Every family should have a plan if someone becomes ill,” says Dr. Weinstock. “Calling 911 in an emergency is more or less expected these days. However, there are other important details as well, such as having access to information like medication lists, physician phone number and if given a choice, the name of the hospital you prefer.”
From Dr. Aji, the recommended planning is even more specific. “If you are going to Florida or abroad on vacation, take the time to check out the hospitals in the area where you will be staying,” says Dr. Aji. “It only takes a little bit of research to find out which hospitals serve the area where you are going and which has the most advanced heart care.”
For more information about the Cooper Heart Institute or to schedule an appointment with a Cooper physician, please call 1-800-8-COOPER (800-826-6737).