Ambulance on the roadA program that coordinates emergency response to heart emergencies is working to reach Native Americans in Montana.

Mission: Lifeline — which lays out ways healthcare systems can improve care for patients who suffer STEMI, a serious heart attack — is coordinating emergency response with the right equipment in rural areas of the state.

EMS services in all six of Montana’s reservations, plus a tribe with 4,500 Native Americans, have received equipment allocations through a $4.6 million donation by the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. The trust is funding the state’s program through 2017.

“Native American risk factors for heart disease are twice as high as anyone else’s because of their body makeup and ethnicities,” said Lacey Gallagher, the spirit of women coordinator for Benefis Health System in Great Falls.

There are about 42,000 people living on reservations and roughly double that number of Native Americans in Montana. Life expectancy is more than four years lower than the national average. Obesity is a common risk factor for many of the diseases this group faces, including Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The equipment, which covers 98 percent of the state, includes 12 lead EKGs in ambulances and the technology to transmit those results, which show the heart’s electrical activity, to hospitals.

The speed matters, because it might take up to two hours for a responder to get to a victim in rural Montana. But the equipment lets responders transmit EKG results from a rural location to a hospital so a care plan can be formed in minutes.

STEMI patients often need PCI (also called heart catheterization or angioplasty), in which a doctor uses a balloon to open the heart’s narrowed or blocked blood vessels. But about 30 percent of STEMI patients don’t receive it, according to the American Heart Association.

Wyoming, which received a similar grant, reduced its STEMI deaths from 7.1 to 4.1 percent, according to the AHA.

It all begins with a call to 911, said Joani Hope, Montana’s Mission: Lifeline director.

“Being able to provide information on your heart from the first few minutes responders are on the scene can help physicians make lifesaving decisions much earlier,” Hope said.