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Published on October 23, 2013

STEMI Alert Program Saved His Life and Minimized Heart Damage

Alan ChristensenAlan Christensen was taking a leisurely walk at the Midland Mall one sunny day in March when he began feeling a little funny. “It was sunny and cool, but by the time I got into my car and cracked a couple of windows, I was sweating profusely,” he said. “I felt like I’d run for miles. My chest started to hurt but the pain was only about a two or three on a scale of 10 so I started for home.”

Fortunately, Christensen lives only a few miles from the mall. “On the way home, I kept feeling worse,” he said. “I told my wife what I was feeling, and she put a nitroglycerin tablet and a baby aspirin under my tongue.” His wife, Gail, called 911, and MidMichigan Medical Center–Emergency Medical Services arrived within minutes. “I remember seeing my reflection in a mirror as they were wheeling me out. I was white as a ghost.”

What Christensen didn’t know is that paramedics from MidMichigan Medical Center EMS, along with the Emergency Department and Cardiac Catheterization teams at MidMichigan Medical Center–Midland, have implemented a special heart attack alert program designed to rapidly identify patients who are suffering from ST segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI).

In STEMI patients, the coronary artery is completely blocked off by a blood clot. As a result of this blockage, all of the heart muscle being supplied by the affected artery starts to die.

The team of paramedics attending to Christensen had quickly determined that he had STEMI and set in motion a streamlined course of action to save his life and minimize damage to his heart. The paramedics alerted the Emergency Department staff and set off for MidMichigan Medical Center–Midland.

“They wheeled me into the ER for about 30 seconds, and then took me to the cardiac cath lab,” Christensen said. “When the doors opened, there stood six people dressed and ready to go. It was a good feeling to know there was no waiting. Someone said ‘You’re going to feel sleepy’ and the next thing I knew, I woke up with some machines hooked up to me.”

Interventional Cardiologist Andy Boguszewski, M.D., performed a procedure that cleared a blocked artery and restored blood flow to Christensen’s heart. He also implanted two stents to help keep the artery open. “A piece of plaque had completely blocked my right coronary artery,” Christensen said. “Later, when I looked at the ‘before’ images of my heart, I could clearly see where the blood supply stopped.” The post-procedure images show the blood flowing as it should. Thankfully, there was no permanent damage to his heart.

Two months after his heart procedure, Christensen, 65, was feeling good and participating in cardiac rehabilitation. While he did not have a history of heart disease, he knew his risk of developing ischemic heart disease was much higher than the average person. “I’m a Viet Nam veteran and that is one of several presumptive conditions designated by the Department of Veterans Affairs,” he said. “Our risk of a heart problem is 3-4 times higher than the general population, which is why we had the nitroglycerin tablets at home. In the event of chest pain, I was to take the nitro and, if I wasn’t feeling better in five minutes, call 9-1-1.”

Christensen was impressed with the speed and efficiency of the paramedics and the Medical Center staff. “It was one hour from the time I noticed my first symptom to the time I was on the table in the cath lab,” he said. “Everybody took great care of me, from the ambulance people to the people at the hospital. I remember someone in the cath lab told me, ‘You’re in good hands’ and, through it all, I felt I was in good hands. MidMichigan really has given me a lifetime of trusted care.”

With state protocols now in place, MidMichigan Health’s STEMI Alert Program is approved for up to a 90-minute patient transport time to MidMichigan Medical Center–Midland. To ensure the overall success of the program, MidMichigan Medical Center EMS actively collaborates with other area EMS providers to provide ongoing training and support. These include Houghton Lake EMS, Denton Township Ambulance Service, Mobile Medical Response (MMR) and Bay Medical EMS.  

MidMichigan Health offers a full array of cardiovascular services, including open-heart surgery, electrophysiology for heart rhythm problems and advanced interventional procedures. Those who would like additional information about MidMichigan’s comprehensive heart and vascular program or MidMichigan’s EMS Heart Attack Alert Program may contact MidMichigan Health Line at (800) 999-3199.