By Susan Tulino
When 49-year-old Scott Abell, a northern-Virginia-based financial advisor, husband and father of three, experienced a heart attack, he first thought it was just a cold. He was active and in good health, but unknown to him, Scott had two blocked arteries: one 80% blocked and the other 100% blocked.
As Scott experienced pain that felt like “acid being poured into his chest,” his wife drove him to the emergency room at Novant Health UVA Health System Haymarket Medical Center.
“The receptionist must have known something was seriously wrong because a nurse came to get me immediately,” said Scott. “I started to lose consciousness, and within a couple of minutes I learned I was having a massive heart attack.”
Transport to the Cath Lab
Fortunately, Haymarket Medical Center is just 10 miles from Prince William Medical Center, a sister facility equipped with a full-service diagnostic and interventional heart catheterization lab (cath lab). Scott was transported there and met by a cardiologist and a team of cardiovascular invasive specialists waiting to begin treatment.
“Forty percent of patients who experience a heart attack have no prior symptoms,” said Hamid Taheri, MD, medical director of heart and vascular services at Prince William Medical Center. “The sooner we can open an occluded artery, the higher the chance of survival and recovery. In fact, data suggests that if we can get to these patients in the first hour of symptom onset, the patient should make a full recovery.”
All Prince William County, Manassas Park and City of Manassas ambulances are equipped with LifeNet electrocardiogram (EKG) monitors, so EMTs can begin treatment immediately upon arrival and continue during transport to the hospital. EKG results are transmitted to awaiting cardiovascular physicians, who begin to diagnose the problem and prepare the cath lab before even meeting the patient.
According to James Pena, RCIS, supervisor of cardiovascular services at Novant Health UVA Health System, current treatment guidelines recommend a “door to therapy” time of 90 minutes or less. With its efficient cath lab team, services and transport program, Prince William Medical Center’s 53 minute average is almost half that time.
Removing the Blockages
Upon arrival at the cath lab, Scott thought he would be put to sleep at some point and imagined the doctors would need to open up his chest. About 30 minutes after arriving, he asked the doctors when the anesthesia would kick in — which evoked a laugh and an explanation that they were already halfway done with his procedure.
“I couldn’t believe it. The doctors had been working to remove my blockages before I even realized what was going on.”
The case was done via the radial artery in Scott’s wrist, which is considered a safer avenue to access blockages than the traditional femoral approach and has been shown to foster shorter recovery times.
“I was blown away by the treatment — my chest pain and pressure were relieved immediately. I am forever grateful for the skills the team used to save my life,” said Scott.
Scott’s sentiment seems to be shared by the Prince William County community. According to Pena, cath lab services at Prince William Medical Center have seen a 15–20 percent growth year after year and the hospital will soon be opening a second facility.
Unfortunately, Scott’s story is not uncommon. Heart attacks can strike even the healthiest individuals and do not always manifest in the stereotypical chest and arm pain. Scott, for example, noticed feelings of agitation triggered by his body’s “fight or flight” response to his artery blockages. If you suspect you’re having a heart attack, call 911 immediately for help.