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Improving ‘door to balloon time’ West Jefferson transmitting EKGs from the field to its ER

When it comes to treating an individual experiencing a heart attack, doctors will tell you “time is muscle.” Every minute counts in saving hearts that have limited blood flow because of a heart attack and now West Jefferson Medical Center (WJMC) has another tool to ensure time is saved – wireless EKG units.

The hospital recently purchased 10 wireless modems for its electrocardiogram (EKG) units that are onboard each West Jeff ambulance. When EMS is called to a heart emergency, paramedics can now attach the patient to a 12-lead EKG unit that, via wireless modem, immediately transmits vital information back to the emergency room where physicians can diagnose what is happening even before the patient gets to the hospital. By using this wireless technology, ER doctors will now see how the heart is functioning in real time and that alone will increase the survival rate among heart attack victims – just ask West Bank resident Wade Arceneaux.

The 45-year-old offshore oil supply salesman returned home from a day of work feeling fine with exception of a little tightness in his chest. He lay down on the bed to pet the family dog and the next thing he remembers he was in ICU at West Jeff. Arceneaux had suffered full cardiac arrest. After resuscitating Arceneaux, paramedics were able to transmit -- in real time -- Arceneaux’s EKG results and work with emergency room doctors to administer specific lifesaving measures, such as needed medications. Because so much medical information was gathered in the field, Arceneaux spent little time in the ER. Shortly after arriving at West Jeff, he was immediately sent for a CAT scan then to the Cardiac Catheterization lab.

“Irreversible or potentially fatal damage to the heart can occur quickly,” according to Robert Chugden, M.D., West Jefferson Emergency Room Medical Director. As Dr. Chugden further explains, “When a heart attack is the result of a blood clot or plaque blocking a patient’s artery, clearing the vessel within 90 minutes cuts the risk of death by 40 percent. With this new wireless EKG technology, we know almost immediately what is causing the heart emergency. While the patient is being transported, we can pre-order diagnostic tests, set up for the emergency with needed equipment, call in other cardiac specialists and even prepare the Cardiac Catheterization Lab for a procedure.”

According to national guidelines recommended by the American Heart Association and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals (JCAHO), the time elapsed for each patient from arrival at the hospital to receiving treatment should be within 90 minutes. But in recent weeks, Dr. Chugden says West Jeff has seen that time greatly decreased because of its wireless EKG units. “We’ve had cases where our ‘door to balloon time’, that is the time it takes to get a heart attack patient from the ER and to Cardiac Catheterization Lab, is less than an hour.”

WJMC Chief Executive Officer Nancy Cassagne says investing in new technology will continue to be a priority for the hospital as she sees the benefits daily. “An estimated 1,200,000 people have heart attacks each year, resulting in 495,000 deaths. The numbers are staggering, but by investing in the latest technology, WJ is doing everything it can to give our patients a positive outcome. We’ve seen immediate results of our wireless EKG system and we are saving lives on the West Bank and that of course, is our ultimate goal.”

As for the Arceneaux family, they are grateful to be living near a hospital that has wireless EKG technology as they know this technology and the hard work of EMS and the emergency cardiac team at WJMC provided a happy ending to what could have been a sad turn of events.