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New Life-Saving Equipment Coming to ND Ambulances

August 3, 2011

BISMARCK, N.D. - A major new initiative from the American Heart Association will put a 12-lead electrocardiograph in each of the roughly 1,000 ambulances which serve North Dakota.

The 12-lead EKG, which fully graphs heart activity through wires attached to a patient's chest, is needed to diagnose what's called a STEMI heart attack, triggered by an acute blockage of an artery, says Dr. Jeffrey Sather, chief of medicine for Trinity Hospital in Minot.

"When that happens, the heart muscle starts to die. The other thing that's important about this type of heart attack is time is really important in getting treatment."

About one in four heart attacks is considered a STEMI.

Being able to get a quick diagnosis will save time, Sather says, especially in rural North Dakota, allowing time to call an air ambulance and then either route patients directly to a hospital that does angioplasty or send word ahead to a smaller, rural hospital where initial treatment can begin.

"(At) many of these hospitals, the physicians aren't there 24/7. They're called in from home. So, we can make sure that they're at the hospital when the patient arrives. We can make sure that the drugs that patient will need are getting prepared and ready, so we can start utilizing time that was wasted before."

The recommended timeframe for a patient with a STEMI heart attack to be treated is 90 minutes, Sather says, so saving time can save a patient's life.

"Or certainly could make them a more productive person. We have people out there that really, after a major heart attack, become cardiac cripples where they cannot go back to work. Their life is totally changed. They're very short of breath with walking; they have heart failure afterwards. So, there's major things by saving time in these patients."

Helmsley Charitable Trust is funding two-thirds of the $7 million "Mission: Lifeline" project. The other funders are the heart association, the state, the Dakota Medical Foundation, the Otto Bremer Foundation and North Dakota's six largest health-care systems.

Information on Mission: Lifeline is online at heart.org.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - ND