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Heart Attack Signals Start of New Life

Thursday, May 05, 2011 - Danbury, CT

Hal Wasserman, M.D.

Hal Wasserman, M.D.
Interventional Cardiology
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Heart attack victim Jacki Marsilio survived her own death-defying drama at Danbury Hospital in less time than it takes to watch a primetime hospital drama at home.

An interventional cardiologist was unblocking a major artery using balloon angioplasty within 40 minutes of Marsilio’s arrival at Danbury Hospital’s Emergency Department via ambulance. The cardiac catheterization team was ready even before she arrived, activated by the emergency medical system that began when her doctor called 9-1-1. Now, weeks later, an echocardiogram performed by a cardiologist shows her heart survived the attack unharmed.

“It’s amazing that I have no permanent heart damage,” said the Brookfield resident. “I attribute that to everybody moving me along the process as quickly as possible. I have no pain. I have lots of energy. I feel great!”

Chain of survival begins with 9-1-1

Marsilio’s remarkable story is an example of how “every link in the chain of survival came together seamlessly,” said Matthew Cassavechia, director of Emergency Medical Services at Danbury Hospital. “Early recognition of cardiac symptoms is critical because calling 9-1-1 triggers the emergency medical system that increases survival rates.”

The 40-minute “door to balloon time” – the term used to describe the time it takes to administer balloon angioplasty from the moment the patient arrives at the Emergency Department door – was far below the national standard. “We strive for 90 minutes,” said Cassavechia. “Anything under that is cause to celebrate. Many individuals contribute to that success.”

Marsilio’s experience sheds light on the many factors that come into play in order to provide life-saving treatment when a heart attack strikes.

Don’t Ignore the Warning Signs

Marsilio waited three days before seeking help for worsening back and chest pain along with what she thought was a “bad case of indigestion.”

“I had none of the classic symptoms of a heart attack that everybody talks about – no pain down my arm, no pressure on my chest, no cold sweats,” she said. Men are more likely to experience chest pain prior to a heart attack, while the heart attack signs for women include unusual fatigue, sleep disturbances, shortness of breath, indigestion and anxiety.

Simply put, Marsilio didn’t realize she was having a heart attack and delaying medical attention could have ended her life.

Call 9-1-1 if you Suspect a Cardiac Problem

Calling 9-1-1 sets in motion the medical emergency system alerting the cardiac catheterization team at Danbury Hospital that a heart attack victim is en route.

In Marsilio’s case, interventional cardiologist Hal Wasserman, MD, and a team of highly skilled cardiac specialists were ready to begin treatment the moment she arrived. “She was in the catheterization laboratory within 11 minutes of arriving at the Emergency Department. Within 40 minutes, we were restoring normal blood flow to the artery that was 100 percent blocked and causing the heart attack.”

Dr. Wasserman performed a balloon angioplasty procedure that unblocks narrowed coronary arteries without performing surgery. “During this procedure, the cardiologist inserts a catheter with a small balloon at the tip into the narrowed area of the artery,” he said. “The balloon expands to reduce the narrowing and restore the normal size of the artery. A stent or small metal mesh tube is inserted in the artery to keep the vessel open following balloon angioplasty.”

Don’t Drive to the Hospital

“More than 50 percent of heart attack victims arrive at the Emergency Department in a private vehicle instead of an ambulance,” said Cassavechia. “That could cost them their lives.”

With an ambulance, paramedics can begin administering life-saving treatments and can directly transmit electrocardiogram (EKG) results to the emergency medical team at Danbury Hospital while en route to the hospital. “Paramedics can also immediately intervene if a patient has a lethal arrhythmia, such as ventricular fibrillation,” said Cassavechia.

Paramedics in surrounding Connecticut and New York communities have remote EKG capabilities to transmit data to Danbury Hospital using digital cell phone technology. The equipment was made possible thanks to the generosity of two local families: Richard and Carol Steiner of Bethel and Bud and Carolyn Hawley of Danbury. “This is an example of how philanthropy can save lives,” he said.

Follow-up Care Shows no Heart Damage

For Marsillo, an echocardiogram conducted by cardiologist Robert Jarrett, MD, during a follow-up visit revealed good news. “There was no damage to the heart,” said Dr. Jarrett. “Jackie can continue to lead an active life as long as she makes lifestyle changes and takes her medication.”

“This heart attack was actually the best thing that could have happened to us,” said Marsilio, referring to her husband, Arthur. The couple now makes healthier food choices and they both stopped smoking. Said her husband: “I smoked my last cigarette chasing the ambulance to the hospital!”

About Danbury Hospital

Danbury Hospital is a leader in complex surgical care and minimally invasive technologies for cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders, orthopedics and spine care, breast disease and cancer. Surgeons use the da Vinci robotic surgery system and advanced imaging to perform surgery and interventional procedures together. Key specialty centers at the 371-bed hospital include the Total Joint Replacement Program, the Spine Center, the Praxair Cancer Center, the Praxair Regional Heart and Vascular Center, the Center for Weight Loss Surgery, and the Family Birth Center, which welcomes 2,500 babies annually. In 2010, it opened the Danbury Hospital Research Institute in 2010 with a world-renowned team to focus initially on women’s reproductive cancers, while maintaining a strong emphasis on health and wellness programming as a Spirit of Women hospital.

The Hospital also embarked on a multi-year $150 million expansion effort in 2011 -- the largest building project in the organization’s history. The project includes a new patient tower with single rooms, an expanded Emergency Department, a new critical care unit, a new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and additional parking.

For more information on Danbury Hospital, or to find a doctor, call 1-800-516-3658 and visit