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Lifesaving Cardiac Treatment: A Heart Attack Doesn’t Wait for Anyone

When Kunkletown resident David Baldwin woke up one fall Sunday in 2016, he didn’t think he was having a heart attack even though he had some of the classic symptoms. “My arm went numb on the left side, and I felt nauseous,” says the 65-year-old retired Verizon technician. Still, “you just don’t think it can happen to you.”

At first, Baldwin decided to wait until his wife, Kathy, got home from church. Fortunately, he changed his mind. “My heart started beating irregularly, so I took an aspirin and called 911,” he says. It turned out to be the best decision of his life.

Lifesaving journey

In the ambulance on the way to Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Pocono, Baldwin’s heart stopped twice. “EMS personnel shocked him out of it,” says Anil Gupta, MD, a cardiologist with LVH–Pocono, who was part of the hospital’s emergency cardiac team on standby that day. “If David had driven himself or had his wife driven him to the hospital, he wouldn’t have made it.”

In addition to this critical medical care, Baldwin was connected to an electrocardiogram (EKG) monitor. The test records the electrical activity of the heart to check for signs of heart abnormalities. While Baldwin was being transported to LVH–Pocono, EMS personnel transmitted Baldwin’s EKG data to the hospital’s emergency room (ER), which alerted the ER and Gupta, saving precious time.

“The emergency room can send EKG data to us through an app on our phones,” Gupta explains. Before Baldwin even got to the hospital, Gupta and the cardiac team could tell he was having a heart attack and got the necessary preparations started.

Time is muscle

A heart attack occurs when a plaqueblocked artery prevents oxygen-rich blood from flowing to the heart muscle. Starved of blood and oxygen, heart tissue can die and cause brain damage or death. The sooner blood flow to the heart is restored, the more likely you will be to survive a heart attack with minimal permanent damage. Every minute counts.

At the hospital, Baldwin was rushed to the catheterization laboratory, which had already been prepped for him. This special room has imaging equipment that can visualize the arteries and chambers of the heart and treat serious problems. There, Gupta and his team could see the problem: Baldwin’s left anterior descending artery, which is one of the heart’s largest arteries, was 100 percent blocked.

To get the artery cleared, Baldwin underwent angioplasty and stenting – a procedure that restores blood flow through narrow or blocked arteries. To help keep Baldwin’s arteries open, Gupta inserted two stents during this procedure. Through a catheter (a small tube), the stents traveled to Baldwin’s heart, starting at his wrist.

After undergoing cardiac rehabilitation, Baldwin was happy to be able to return to working part time at the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway. “LVH–Pocono was a great experience,” Baldwin says. “I’m grateful to EMS personnel – Chris and Brandon – and to Dr. Gupta and his team for saving my life.”

3 Ways to Help Prevent Heart Attack

  1. Be a quitter - Quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do to avoid a heart attack. Smoking increases the likelihood of plaque buildup in your arteries.
  2. Get a move on - Exercise, such as brisk walking, helps reduce blood pressure, increases HDL (“good”) cholesterol and helps your heart work more efficiently. Aim for 150 minutes of brisk walking or 75 minutes of more intense exercise, such as jogging, per week. Even just 10 minutes per day can help.
  3. Eat to beat heart disease - A heart healthy diet loaded with fruits, vegetables, whole grains like oatmeal, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, plus nuts and healthy fats such as olive oil, can help control your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure, to reduce your risk of heart attack.

Your Heart Attack Action Plan

Nearly every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack, according to the American Heart Association.

Call 911 immediately if you or someone you’re with experiences warning signs of a heart attack:

  • Pain in the chest, arm and/or jaw

  • Shortness of breath

  • Nausea

  • Sweating

Don’t drive – or have someone else drive you – to the hospital. In an ambulance, immediate treatment can begin working to unblock the artery and prevent long-term heart damage.

Learn about Monroe County heart care program Call 888-402-LVHN (5846) or visit LVHN.org/heartcare