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Health Network Strengthens Chain of Survival for Heart Attack Victims

Tuesday, March 06, 2012 - Danbury, CT

Chain of Survival Story

Danbury Hospital re-accredited as ‘chest pain center’ for higher level of care

Efforts by Western Connecticut Health Network to “strengthen the chain of survival” for heart attack victims means patients such as Alice Beyer – who underwent life-saving angioplasty at Danbury Hospital within 90 minutes of being diagnosed at New Milford Hospital – can get back to their lives sooner.

“I never felt afraid because everyone knew what to do. They kept me calm,” said Beyer, 69, who was at the Regional Cancer Center at New Milford Hospital preparing to receive chemotherapy when she suddenly began sweating profusely. Oncology Staff quickly recognized the worrisome symptoms and immediately brought her to the Emergency Department, where an electrocardiogram confirmed she was having a heart attack. The emergency physician at New Milford Hospital discussed her case with an interventional cardiologist at Danbury Hospital’s Praxair Regional Heart & Vascular Center and made arrangements for her rapid transfer. Beyer went via ambulance directly to Danbury Hospital’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab where the cardiac catheterization team was assembled even before she arrived.

Now weeks later, follow-up cardiac tests show Beyer’s heart survived the attack without damage. “I’m fine today because people at both hospitals acted so quickly,” said the New Preston resident. “I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Everything fell into place.”

A Higher Level of Cardiac Care

Beyer’s story is another example of how Western Connecticut Health Network and the combined resources of New Milford Hospital and Danbury Hospital benefits patients throughout the region. The Praxair Regional Heart and Vascular Center at Danbury Hospital offers the full spectrum of care, including prevention, diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation and education services. It was recently reaccredited as a “Chest Pain Center” for delivering the highest level of cardiac care. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.

Danbury Hospital consistently meets the 90-minute national standard for “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. But reaching the 90-minute mark in Beyer’s case, which involved a New Milford Hospital to Danbury Hospital transfer, represents another milestone for the health network.

“This is an astounding accomplishment,” said Eileen Hurley, BSN, MA, APRN, chest pain coordinator at Danbury Hospital, “and a testament to our ability to work as a team across the network to provide cardiac patients with the best possible outcomes.”

Strengthening the “Chain of Survival”

Thomas Koobatian, MD, Chair of Emergency Medicine at New Milford Hospital believes the network has enhanced patient care throughout the region. “Since the beginning of the affiliation, we have focused on making sure that New Milford Hospital’s capabilities for cardiac care are closely linked to the Danbury Hospital cardiac program,” said Dr. Koobatian, who helped diagnose Beyer’s heart attack.

Measures Taken

  • Both hospitals follow the same protocols and documentation for assessing, diagnosing and treating heart attack, making patient transfers from one institution to another seamless. New Milford Hospital has direct access to the cardiac catheterization team at Danbury Hospital. “There’s no interruption in communication or treatment as patients move from one facility to another,” said Dr. Koobatian.
  • A Danbury Hospital paramedic stationed at New Milford Hospital’s Emergency Department during the busiest part of the day is available to assist in the care of cardiac patients and can quickly transport heart attack victims who require advanced care to Danbury Hospital via ambulance.
  • A multidisciplinary team of physicians, nurses and others from both hospitals meets monthly to review all cardiac cases. “We’re constantly looking for ways to make our system more effective,” said Dr. Koobatian. “Anything we can do reduce the door-to-balloon time benefits patients.”

Setting the Standard for Excellence

As an accredited Chest Pain Center by the international Society of Chest Pain Centers, Danbury Hospital sets the standard for excellence in cardiac care with a multidisciplinary team specially trained to rapidly assess, diagnose and treat patients who arrive with symptoms of a heart attack, explained Hurley.

“Identifying and treating cardiac patients as quickly as possible is crucial to preserving heart muscle. Time is muscle,” said Hurley. “Our staff is specially attuned to recognize all the potential signs of a heart attack – not just the classic chest pain you see in Hollywood movies.” Beyer’s symptoms, for example, included indigestion, nausea, sweating, and slight arm pain. “Women have very different symptoms from men,” noted Hurley. “An elderly woman who arrives at an Emergency Department complaining of fatigue and nausea could actually be having a heart attack.”

“Unfortunately, many people wait an average of two hours before seeking medical attention and arrive at the Emergency Department by car, rather than by ambulance, said Matthew Cassavechia, director of Emergency Medical Services at Danbury Hospital.

“It’s important to call 9-1-1 at the first sign of cardiac symptoms to activate the emergency medical system that can increase survival rates,” said Cassavechia. “Paramedics in the field can begin treating patients. They also can send EKG results directly to the Emergency Department, which can mobilize the cardiac catheterization team even before the patient arrives at the hospital. Each link in the chain of survival needs to be robust for patients to reap optimum outcomes.”

Among the Lucky Ones

Beyer considers herself lucky to have been at New Milford Hospital for her cancer treatment when the heart attack occurred. “I don’t think I would have called for help right away if I were home because I wasn’t experiencing the crushing chest pain that most people associate with a heart attack,” she said.

“To be honest, it didn’t hurt much,” she said. “It felt more like having a gas bubble in the middle of my chest. I felt a burning sensation in my arm as if I had hit my funny bone. I didn’t think anything of it.”

 But by the time Beyer was set to begin chemotherapy, she was sweating profusely and feeling nauseous. “That’s when all the action started,” she said.

In Beyer’s case, interventional cardiologist Hal Wasserman, MD, and a team of specialists were ready to perform an emergency balloon angioplasty procedure that unblocks narrowed coronary arteries without performing surgery. “We inserted a catheter with a small balloon at the tip into the occluded area of the artery,” he explained. “The balloon expands to reduce the narrowing and restore the blood flow to that part of the heart. We also inserted metal stents to keep the blood vessel open following angioplasty. There’s no reason why Mrs. Beyer can’t enjoy a normal and productive life following this procedure.”

That’s great news for Beyer, who intends to make the most of every minute. “I feel very fortunate,” she said. “I want to thank everyone who was involved.”

About Western Connecticut Health Network

Western Connecticut Health Network is a patient-centered health care organization established in 2010 by two nationally recognized hospitals, Danbury Hospital, New Milford Hospital and their affiliated organizations, to provide the highest level of care to patients throughout Western Connecticut and adjacent New York. In addition to the two hospitals, other network affiliates include:

  • An integrated physician practice with primary and specialty care expertise
  • An agency for home care and community health services
  • A full-service retail pharmacy located at Danbury Hospital
  • Emergency medical services
  • An occupational wellness and medicine program, providing services for business and industry

Western Connecticut Health Network has centers of excellence in Women’s, neonatal, cardiovascular and cancer services; weight loss and orthopedic surgery; digestive disorders and radiology and diagnostic imaging. It also offers specialized programs for sleep disorders and asthma management.  Both hospitals also maintain active clinical research programs, offering clinical trials for patients with cancer and other health concerns.

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About Danbury Hospital

Danbury Hospital is a 371-bed regional medical center and university teaching hospital associated with the University of Vermont College of Medicine, the Yale University School of Medicine, the Connecticut School of Medicine and Columbia University Medical Center.  The hospital is nationally recognized as a tertiary health care center with an innovative high-tech, high-touch environment and is also a member of the Planetree organization. In addition to offering the latest robotic and minimally invasive surgical and imaging technology, it was the first hospital in Connecticut to adopt electronic health records systems. It offers a Level II Trauma Center and Level IIIb Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Medical staff members are board-certified in their specialties, and most serve as faculty members of the nation’s finest university medical centers offering a higher level of experience. 

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About New Milford Hospital

New Milford Hospital is a Planetree organization dedicated to patient-centered care that nurtures every patient's body, mind and spirit.  The Hospital has an extraordinary tradition of warm and caring personal attention backed by top-notch physicians, world-class technology and the newest, most advanced diagnostic and treatment options available. Your healthcare team of highly trained physicians, nurses, technicians and administrators is determined and committed to improving the health and quality of life of those we serve.

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