15:29 PM

How to Survive a Heart Attack

Calling 911 is the first step to receiving fast care

Kevin Learish of Bethlehem had a choice when he felt pressure in his chest and struggled to breathe after hitting the shower at his gym: Call 911 or don’t. Fortunately, he recognized he was having a heart attack and made the call. ER and heart care teams at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)– Muhlenberg were ready the moment Learish arrived. They whisked him to the cardiac catheterization lab, where interventional cardiologist Anthony Urbano, MD, with LVPG Cardiology, unclogged his blocked artery and propped it open with a tiny metal scaffold called a stent. “It wasn’t my time to go,” Learish says.

But it could have been – or his outcome could have been worse. “Prompt treatment ensured he didn’t lose more heart muscle, preventing complications like heart failure,” Urbano says. Factors that contributed to Learish’s survival can help you too. “I tell everyone to have a plan for a heart attack like you would for a fire,” says cardiologist Nainesh Patel, MD, with LVPG Cardiology. Here’s what your plan should include:

Know the signs

“If you experience any discomfort in the chest that is not relieved by sitting and resting or is associated with shortness of breath, sweating or vomiting, you ought to think about it being a heart attack,” says cardiologist William Combs, MD, with LVPG Cardiology. Other symptoms can be more subtle, especially for women: feelings of heaviness; arm, jaw or shoulder pain; overwhelming fatigue that seems out of proportion to your activities.

High risk 

  • Family history

  • Hypertension

  • Diabetes

  • Smoking

  • Obesity

Call 911

Don’t presume you or someone else can get to the hospital faster than an ambulance – or let embarrassment at the prospect of being loaded into one hold you back. “Average time to reach a person’s door in the Lehigh Valley is seven minutes,” Patel says. Even more critical: “Treatment begins when the ambulance arrives at your location.”

High risk

  • Driving yourself

“If you’re behind the wheel and pass out, now we’re dealing with potential trauma from an accident on top of a heart attack,” Patel says.

Make every minute count

Paramedics can take an electrocardiogram (EKG) in the ambulance that can be transmitted to area emergency rooms thanks to broadband modems for ambulances in Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon and Schuylkill counties funded by a $76,000 Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) donation. “Sending this valuable information to a cardiologist who can confirm a patient is having a heart attack means the cardiac catheterization lab and care team can be ready for you as soon as the ambulance reaches the emergency room,” Combs says.


  • Take one 325 mg tablet of aspirin or four 81 mg baby aspirins.

Aspirin will thin your blood and potentially reduce clotting risks. Paramedics may build on this head start with other medication such as nitroglycerin.

Lehigh Valley Heart Institute

When you arrive by ambulance at Lehigh Valley Heart Institute, our care team is ready. “Minutes are precious,” Urbano says. “We have a seasoned team that constantly fine-tunes performance with an eye to further improvement.” Someone even holds elevator doors when you’re moved. “Simple, streamlined processes save time,” Patel says. A key measure is called door-to-balloon time – minutes from arrival to receiving cardiac catheterization. LVH–Cedar Crest ranks in the 90th percentile by the CathPCI Registry® – an average of 48 minutes door-to-balloon. “That’s very fast,” Patel says.


  • Advanced catheterization and support technologies

  • Clinical trials that are limited to leading cardiac treatment centers

Such stats are reflected in Learish, who did everything right by getting highly skilled, multidisciplinary care fast at Lehigh Valley Heart Institute. “Knowing the seriousness of a heart attack and the importance of early treatment can be critical,” Combs says.

Lehigh Valley Heart Institute is here for you when your heart needs us most. Visit LVHN.org/heartinstitute.