Providence St. Mary is the first hospital in Walla Walla to offer 24/7 emergency treatment for heart attacks caused by blockages in the coronary arteries. This new service – initiated February 16 – means patients experiencing a heart attack now have safe, effective, around-the-clock emergency service available in their community.
“You don’t schedule your heart attack. It can happen at all hours of the day, any day of the week,” said Rob Watilo, chief strategy officer at Providence St. Mary. “This extended service is simply about providing access to care when patients need it.”
Until now, emergency percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) was only available four days a week in Walla Walla at Walla Walla General Hospital. Patients suffering a heart attack outside that window were transported by ambulance for treatment outside Walla Walla.
“By decreasing the number of transfers, we’re also helping provide relief to our local EMS,” said Watilo, who explained how the benefits of the service extend beyond urgent cardiac care – and into the community.
“In additional to great patient care, this new service supports our local EMS teams by helping keep them in our community, and essentially increasing their ability to respond and assist to local needs.”
Complementing the emergency PCI treatment, patients also have access to 24/7 cardiology coverage and consultation services. “We now can offer patients a full continuum of care – all on one campus: from emergency room, to intervention, recovery and our cardiac rehabilitation program,” said Watilo.
When it comes to treating a heart attack, studies show an early response reduces the chance of damage to the heart muscle and increases overall survival rates.
“We know patients who seek treatment faster, who receive care sooner, generally have better outcomes,” said Imran Zubair, M.D., an interventional cardiologist at Providence St. Mary. “Minutes matter when it comes to treating heart attacks.”
The type of care matters, too
In emergency situations, when interventional cardiac care isn’t immediately available, patients are often given medications to help open blocked arteries.
“These ‘clot busters,’ as good as they are, are not perfect,” said Dr. Zubair. “They can be effective at opening arteries in the early onset of a heart attack. But, they have a high bleeding risk and are often not very successful in opening the blocked artery.”
PCI is considered the primary treatment for a heart attack. During the procedure, a long, thin, flexible tube called a catheter is inserted into the blood vessels and threaded into your heart. Using the catheter, the doctor inflates a balloon to dilate and open heart vessels, widening the affected arteries and restoring blood flow. Stents – small wire-mesh tubes – are often put in place to keep the arteries open.
“Studies show – time and again – that for most patients, opening the artery through interventional treatment as soon as possible, without the use of clot busters, reduces the risk of complications and improves patient’s mortality rate,” said Dr. Zubair.
When to seek care: symptoms of a heart attack
Symptoms of a heart attack aren’t always easy to recognize. Classic signs associated with a heart attack – clutching chest pain, cold sweats, pain shooting down the arm, turning pale, passing out – aren’t as common as we might think. In fact, these symptoms only occur in about half of all heart attacks.
“Many people experiencing a heart attack simply don’t feel good, or may feel lethargic,” said Dr. Zubair. “Some people report discomfort like heartburn, or they can’t finish familiar tasks like mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, or even walking to the mailbox.”
“Select groups of people, especially women, diabetics and the elderly, often have these ‘atypical’ symptoms,” said Dr. Zubair. “Or they may even not have any symptoms at all and their heart attack is discovered incidentally.”
Are you at risk?
Along with recognizing the signs of a heart attack, knowing your risk for cardiovascular disease can help you better understand when to seek medical attention. Risk factors include:
- Age: men and women 65 or older are at increased risk for heart attack.
- Gender: men are at greater risk for heart attack than women. However, heart disease is the leading cause of death among U.S. women.
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Family history of heart disease
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Excess weight – especially fat around the mid-section
- Race: African Americans, Native Americans and Mexican Americans are more likely to have heart disease than Caucasians.
If you have questions about heart health, talk to your Providence primary care provider. Don’t have one? Use our online tools to search for a provider or clinic in your neighborhood.
For more information about cardiology care at Providence St. Mary, visit our website.
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