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MN's New Mission: A Lifeline to Rural Heart Attack Victims

PHOTO: Technology allows for the wireless transmittal of EKGs of STEMI patients to area hospitals. CREDIT: Greater Louisville Medical Society
PHOTO: Technology allows for the wireless transmittal of EKGs of STEMI patients to area hospitals. CREDIT: Greater Louisville Medical Society
June 13, 2013

BEMIDJI, Minn. - A major new initiative from the American Heart Association aims to save lives in Minnesota by improving and streamlining heart attack care in the state.

According to Mindy Cook, director of Mission Lifeline, the project will ensure that all ambulances have the proper equipment to allow for the quick diagnosis of what's called a STEMI heart attack, also known as the "widow maker."

"It's very important to identify that heart attack as early as possible, ideally in the ambulances," she said, "and then have a treatment plan for triaging that patient as quickly as possible at the referral hospital, so the artery can be opened within the guideline time of 90 to 120 minutes."

About one in four heart attacks is considered a STEMI, which is triggered by an acute blockage of an artery. Minnesota's Mission Lifeline will take place over three years thanks to $6.5 million in grants, with Helmsley Charitable Trust as the leading funder.

The effort is specifically focused on rural Minnesota, where treatment times are longer because of greater distances, according to Tom Vanderwal, executive director of Bemidji-based Greater Northwest EMS. For instance, Vanderwal said, there are only 15 hospitals and 20 ambulance services across 12 counties of northwest Minnesota.

"That 15,000-square-mile area is as big or bigger than nine separate states of the union," he said. "How many states do you know that only have 20 ambulance services? So, there are a lot of challenges in our rural setting."

The initiative also will help overcome another challenge with a rural setting, which is covering the expense of the needed equipment, called a 12-lead EKG. Vanderwal said the services couldn't afford it on their own, since most rely on volunteers and already operate on tight budgets.

"Fundraising required for continuing existence - pancake feeds, raffles - are an ongoing thing for them just to exist," he said. "So as that baby boom population migrates up here, we have even more pressure to have that kind of capability, because we as the public expect that."

The 12-lead EKG fully graphs heart activity through wires attached to a patient's chest and is needed to diagnose a STEMI heart attack.

More information is online at

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN