Jim Etters, 64, of Conway was at home recovering from a recent knee surgery, resting and watching TV with his brother, when he began to feel an odd sensation in the middle of his shoulder blades.
“I didn’t feel pain, just a deep discomfort,” Etters said.
Etters, who had been battling a genetic heart condition for years, was experiencing symptoms of a heart attack.
While there was no immediate chest pain or pressure, Etters felt an “odd sensation” between his neck and shoulders. He knew the feeling from having a past heart problem.
Etters said he doesn’t remember the trip to the emergency room, but he does remember his usually quiet dachshund getting rather loud that afternoon.
“My dachshund doesn’t bark much, but he stood with his back to me barking and sounding the alarm until paramedics arrived,” he said.
Ambulances are now equipped with EKG monitoring equipment that enables emergency medical technicians to send EKG readings directly to the emergency department and Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory, increasing the response time of the Conway Regional heart team.
Paramedic Robert Darr said people have a tendency to want to drive to the hospital, but an ambulance is much safer and better equipped with technology, emergency care, IVs, medications and heart defibrillators.
By beginning the medical treatment process in the ambulance, Darr said, the hospital can receive real-time readings of the patient’s condition and call in necessary departments or physicians expediting the patient care process.
Etters was experiencing chest pain and pressure by the time he arrived at the emergency department.
After about 20 minutes of additional tests and checks, Etters said he remembers feeling relieved when he was told he was having a heart attack.
“In the Emergency Room I don’t know that I opened my eyes, I was uncomfortable; there was a lot of pressure on my chest, but I remember a lady telling me, ‘Mr. Etters you are having a heart attack,’” he said. “I was taken to the Cardiac Cath Lab, and she placed my wrist on the table.”
Etters watched as Dr. Parker Norris, MD, a Cardiologist with the Conway Heart Clinic, inserted an IV-like catheter into Etters’ right wrist, opening his artery with a small mesh tube or stent to restore blood flow to the heart.
“The stent was in, the pressure gone and the uncomfortableness had gone away,” Etters said.
Norris estimates he performs about 200 coronary artery stents a year. During his 20 years of practicing medicine, that makes Etters’ one of about 4,000 procedures.
One of the earliest available measures of heart attack care is what is known as door-to-balloon time. Door-to-balloon time measures the time it takes a patient with symptoms of a heart attack to receive an interventional heart procedure after the patient enters the emergency department. These procedures may include heart catheterization or open-heart surgery.
In 2005, the American College of Cardiology gold standard for door-to-balloon time switched from 120 minutes to 90 minutes.
Currently, Conway Regional’s average door-to-balloon time is 58 minutes; that is 32 minutes faster than the Gold Standard. It only took 37 minutes for Etters’ artery to receive blood flow from the time he arrived at the ER.
“The key is to get [the artery] open quickly to lose as little as possible,” Norris said.
After his procedure, Etters spent one day recovering in the Critical Care Unit, and three days on the third floor telemetry unit where his condition was monitored as he recovered.
“I had been taken care of so quickly that I didn’t have very much damage,” he said. “The nurses on the third floor did a great job. They were very friendly and just went the extra mile.”
He also participated in Cardiac Rehabilitation for a few weeks where he exercised 50 minutes per day, three days a week, while wearing a heart monitor.
Cardiologists Dr. Parker Norris, MD and Dr. Don Steely, MD, Cardiac Cath Lab staff, MEMS paramedics and the emergency department are all credited with ensuring patients receive intervention below the 90-minute gold standard. Each heart attack patient in 2013 was treated faster than the gold standard. The national average for 2013 was 94 percent.