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Citizens Medical Center earns national recognition for heart attack care

By Elena Watts
June 27, 2013 at 1:27 a.m.
Updated June 28, 2013 at 1:28 a.m.


WARNING SIGNS OF HEART ATTACK

Some heart attacks are sudden and intense, but most start slowly with mild pain or discomfort.

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. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Shortness of breath

This may occur with or without chest discomfort.

Other signs

These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Source: heart.org/HEARTORG

Citizens Medical Center earned special recognition for providing exceptional heart attack care from the American Heart Association's Mission: Lifeline program.

The initiative helps hospitals and emergency medical services develop systems of care for patients with severe heart attacks. As a "STEMI-Receiving Hospital," Citizens meets high standards of performance in quick and appropriate treatment of severe, or ST-Elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), heart attack patients. Before they are discharged, patients are started on aggressive risk reduction therapies such as cholesterol-lowering drugs, aspirin and beta-blockers. They also receive counseling on quitting smoking if needed.

Allan Pokluda, 41, a post office carrier in Edna, experienced a heart attack in 2011. The husband and father of three began experiencing pain and numbness in his right arm three days before he went to the area emergency room.

The doctor told Pokluda, who was young and fit without a family history of heart disease, that a nerve was most likely pinched. He performed an electrocardiogram just to be sure and discovered a blocked coronary artery.

Emergency medical services quickly transported Pokluda to Citizens, where the staff removed the blockage in 46 minutes from the initial point of contact in Edna.

"They were waiting for me and got after it," Pokluda said. "It was just after midnight, so they were at home sleeping and came in and did the job."

Every second that goes by can result in permanent damage, said Suzanne Stone, registered nurse and chest pain center coordinator at Citizens.

When an artery is completely blocked, the heart is not receiving the oxygenated blood it needs, and that portion of the heart muscle begins to die, she said.

"We are pleased to be recognized for our dedication and achievements in cardiac care, and I am very proud of our team," said David P. Brown, Citizens Medical Center CEO.

Dr. Tywaun Tillman, interventional cardiologist and director of the catheterization laboratory at Citizens, said the effort requires the coordination of many different groups within certain time frames.

The goal is to get the overall time down from timely transport by emergency medical services to advance lab preparation to staff and doctors ready to swing into action.

"It's easier to train personnel in smaller towns, though not all have been able to accomplish what we have," Tillman said.

More populated areas with bigger hospitals are not as efficient because they might have to train 30 cardiologists who are on call once a month in the rotation, he said. Furthermore, emergency medical services must work with more hospitals that might have different procedures in place.

Tillman estimated that he has treated more than 400 heart attack patients in his five-and-a-half years with the hospital. Of those, a small percentage - the national average is 10 percent - were severe.

The national goal established by the heart association is 90 minutes from first medical contact to reperfusion of the heart - even if the initial contact is 40 miles from the nearest catheterization lab. Citizens average time for the first quarter of 2013 was 36 minutes.

"It can happen to anyone," Pokluda said. "It gave me a new perspective on life - you never know when it's going to end."

The American College of Cardiology has found that transport by emergency medical services to a cardiac cath lab and around-the-clock teams capable of opening a blocked vessel quickly provide patients the best chance for long-term survival.

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