911 on a telephone screenTimothy “Mitch” Mitchell was one of the lucky ones. A diabetic and a longtime smoker, he experienced some burning sensations in his chest off and on for a few days, but thought it was “from the cold” September days in Wisconsin.

After the burning pain “got worse” and wouldn’t go away one night, he decided to drive himself to the Emergency Room at Aurora Medical Center in  Two Rivers, Wis. It was 3 a.m. He passed out within minutes of arrival.

After going into cardiac arrest, Mitchell’s heart stopped for several minutes before medical teams shocked him back to life and stabilized him for transfer at Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay, the first hospital in Two Rivers, Wis.,  to receive the American Heart Association’s Mission: Lifeline Heart Attack Receiving Center Accreditation.

It turned out he had a coronary artery that was nearly 100 percent blocked and needed an angioplasty, or percutaneous coronary intervention. In this procedure, special tubing with an attached deflated balloon is threaded up to the coronary arteries. The balloon is inflated to widen blocked areas where blood flow to the heart muscle has been reduced or cutoff. Patients are most likely to benefit from this procedure if it is performed quickly –within 90 minutes of the “door to balloon time –the time between the moment a heart attack patient enters a hospital ER and he or she undergoes the angioplasty. Aurora BayCare’s door-to-balloon time in this case was 16 minutes.

“When a patient has chest pain in a heart attack, they are experiencing their heart muscles deteriorating and dying,” said Scott Weslow, M.D., interventional cardiologist at Aurora BayCare who treated Mitchell. “Every minute it’s being deprived of blood, those muscles are dying. That’s why it’s important that you don’t ignore the warning signs of a heart attack, especially if you have major risk factors like Mr. Mitchell did.”

Dr. Weslow admitted that it’s rare when a patient who experiences both cardiac arrest (when the heart malfunctions and stops beating) and a STEMI heart attack (when blood flow to the heart is blocked) has a good prognosis and recovery. He attributes the good outcome partially to the “team effort” of the paramedics and the medical teams in the hospital, obtaining a prompt ECG (within 10 minutes) and the effort to shorten that transfer time that the Mission: Lifeline program emphasizes to streamline systems of care.

You are more likely to get prompt treatment for a heart attack if you call 9-1-1, rather than drive yourself to the hospital.  According to a recent study in the American Journal of Cardiology, delays occur when people drive themselves to the hospital, when they go during “off-hours” (weekends and 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays) and if they don’t obtain an ECG (electrocardiogram) within 10 minutes of hospital arrival. The study looked at data from the American Heart Association’s Mission: Lifeline program and examined more than 13,000 heart attack victims who did not call 9-1-1 during a 4 ½ year period.

“I wish I had called 9-1-1. I could have easily passed out in the car driving myself to the hospital,” said Mitchell, who is doing well and has quit smoking for good. “I didn’t realize the paramedics were trained that well – they and the hospital team saved my life.”