Heart Attack - Time Makes a Difference

These two words, "heart attack," strike fear in all of us because heart attacks are the leading cause of death in this country and in this State. Seabrookers are fortunate to have excellent medical facilities nearby in Charleston.

We have already written about the pathology of the coronary arteries that involves clogging of the coronary arteries with arteriosclerosis, and when the blood supply to the heart is suddenly completely stopped, a myocardial infarction or heart attack will ensue. The unfortunate statistic is that 50% of people still die suddenly from heart attacks, many never knowing that they had coronary heart disease.

However, the good news is that over the years fewer men are dying from heart attacks when the statistics are adjusted for age. When I was in medical school over 30 years ago I remember taking care of a 50 year old (young) man who was admitted to the Medical University with a heart attack. We put him in a quiet room, drew the shades and gave him some nitroglycerine and valium. That, along with some hope and "supportive care" was all we had to offer. Things have really changed and this is why age-adjusted mortality has improved. We will discuss in another column all the things that can be done for treatment of coronary artery disease.

Signs of a Heart Attack & Steps to Take

The table lists the signs of a heart attack. If you have coronary artery disease or are at risk to develop it, it might be wise to post the table on your refrigerator, where I have my list! The symptoms include chest pain or discomfort which may extend to the shoulders, arms, back, teeth or jaw. Patients often have nausea, vomiting and sweating. These symptoms may be accompanied by dizziness, fainting and shortness of breath. With a myocardial infarction these symptoms will last more than a few minutes, but they can disappear. Not all of these signs occur in every heart attack and patients with diabetes, especially, may not have all these symptoms. Because we are all prone to deny ominous signs, it is not unusual for many to think they are experiencing "indigestion." If one is at risk and thinks that symptoms may be a heart attack it is essential to find out, immediately!

On Seabrook, the best thing to do if one suspects that you or an associate are having a heart attack, CALL 911. This simple act may save your life because it sets into action a response which can save your life. Time saves lives with heart attack. The shorter the interval between the onset of chest pain and treatment has been proven in many studies to correlate with survival.

When you call 911 at Seabrook, your call will be received by the 911 operator but also by the Security force on our island. The 911 operator will immediately dispatch the St. John's Fired Department located on the island. They will be at your location in about 5 minutes and there is always an emergency medical technician (EMT) in attendance. An emergency medical service (EMS) unit or ambulance will be dispatched from the Betsy Kerrison station near Oak Point and should be at the site in just a few minutes after the Fire Department. A paramedic travels with the EMS and has drugs which can be administered if required. The EMS will take the patient to either the Medical University or Roper where definitive tests and more complete treatment can be done.

It has been shown that patients with a heart attack who get to a hospital in less than hour and a half have a better chance of survival than those who get there later. Seabrookers who experience a heart attack, make the correct diagnosis and promptly call 911 will easily get to the hospital within this hour and a half. We are fortunate to have a first response team on the island that can be at our sides within about 5 minutes. This could save our lives.

Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Pain in shoulders, arms, back, teeth, or jaw
  • Nausea, vomiting, sweating
  • Dizziness, shortness of breath, fainting
  • Prolonged "indigestion"