EMS: When heart attack symptoms begin, ‘Survive, Don’t Drive’

EMS: When heart attack symptoms begin, ‘Survive ­—Don’t Drive’

“If we had gotten in my wife’s car ..., she would’ve been able to do nothing but watch me die in her leather seats.” Bill profita, radio talk show host

The chest pain struck as Bill Profita was walking his dog, Penny, on a Sunday night in late March.

By the time he made it back to his Baton Rouge home, the 61-year-old radio talk show host was so low on energy that it took him 11 minutes to reach his bedroom, where his wife immediately asked if she should take him to the hospital.

“If we had gotten in my wife’s car …,” Profita said Tuesday, “she would’ve been able to do nothing but watch me die in her leather seats.”

Speaking inside the East Baton Rouge Parish 911 Center on Tuesday morning, Profita credited fast-acting paramedics and doctors with saving his life after he suffered a heart attack shortly before midnight March 30. He gave his testimony surrounded by city-parish officials who were promoting a nationwide campaign dubbed “Survive. Don’t Drive,” meant to encourage anyone suffering symptoms of a heart attack or stroke to call 911 as opposed to driving themselves or asking someone else to drive them to a hospital.

In the past year, paramedics with East Baton Rouge Parish Emergency Medical Services responded to nearly 1,500 calls for heart problems in which the patients received treatment. Of those, 65 people received an emergency stent procedure that is time sensitive, Chad Guillot, EMS’s interim director, said.

And first responders already this month have been called out to help save seven people who got to the hospital in time to receive the stent procedure, Guillot said.

EMS paramedics carry equipment they can use in the field to perform tests on a patient’s heart. The results, in the form of an electrocardiogram, or EKG, can be sent via laptop to cardiologists who can make treatment decisions based on the readings as a patient is en route to a hospital, officials said.

It can take up to 30 minutes to set up catheterization laboratories, commonly called “cath labs,” where heart attack patients undergo the stent procedure as soon as possible to remove blockages in blood vessels — meaning every minute of preparation hospitals have prior to a patient’s arrival is key, according to medical professionals.

“The sooner we can open that artery, the better the outcome,” said Dr. Terry Rehn, a Baton Rouge-based cardiologist.

Rehn stressed the importance of calling 911 to get paramedics and doctors involved in treating potential heart attacks as soon as possible, explaining how alternative moves could prove “fatal decisions.”

At Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, one of five hospitals in the parish equipped with technology to receive the EMS EKGs, it takes about 28 minutes “from door to balloon,” Rehn said, meaning a patient normally comes in the hospital and, within 30 minutes, the blockage is relieved.

Other parish hospitals equipped with the EMS technology include both locations of Baton Rouge General Medical Center, Ochsner Medical Center and Lane Regional Medical Center in Zachary. Calling ahead often allows heart attack patients to bypass emergency rooms at those hospitals, officials said.

Guillot said the campaign focuses on heart attack patients — as opposed to gunshot, overdose or other patients — partly because of the extra time it takes to prepare cath labs.

However, Guillot encouraged anyone suffering a traumatic injury to call 911. Although he did note that in dangerous situations, paramedics will wait to get the all clear from police before arriving on scene to assist anyone injured.

“If they go in and get injured, then they become part of the problem,” Guillot said.

Mayor-President Kip Holden, whose mother died of a heart attack at the age of 51, urged people to call 911 as soon as any symptom of a heart attack reveals itself, harping on the monicker, “time is of the essence.”

Profita, the radio host, said the quick and effective care he received allowed him to return to work only four weeks after he suffered the heart attack.

“Do not risk it,” he said. “Call 911.”

Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter @_BenWallace.