Calling 911 for heart attack victims improves survival rates -


Calling 911 for heart attack victims improves survival rates

A heart attack can stop you or someone you know, right in your tracks.

Unfortunately, more than 715,000 Americans will suffer a heart attack this year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some people drive themselves, or their loved one to the hospital, but calling 911 is the best thing to do because it offers the greatest survival odds.

The warning signs of a heart attack include chest pain, discomfort in the upper body, shortness of breath, nausea, or lightheadedness.

Nearly 47 percent of sudden cardiac deaths occur outside a hospital according to the CDC. Often, that's because people doubt they're actually having a heart attack, and fail to get the help they need in time.

America Now recently visited Greg and Carol Cromartie who live in Garland, Texas. He is a heart attack survivor.

"I am just extremely grateful to still have my husband," Carol Cromartie said. "He's my best friend--the love of my life."

America Now Correspondent Jeff Rivenbark visited with the Cromarties this spring when they returned to the catheterization lab at Baylor Medical Center-Garland to thank the staff who quickly sprung into action to save Greg's life on June 12, 2012.

Greg Cromartie said he was home and woke up at 2:37 a.m. in a cold sweat.

"I still remember looking at that clock, and knew I was having a heart attack. I woke up my wife, and she immediately called 911," Greg Cromartie recalled.

While en route to the hospital, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) ran an Electrocardiography (EKG) which immediately transmitted the results to the emergency room.

"I remember distinctively the paramedics saying, ‘We have a 59-year-old gentleman having a heart attack. Get the cath team ready,'" Cromartie said.

Hedgy Mcdonald is a cardiac catheterization technologist at the medical center where Greg was taken.

Mcdonald said calling 911 is the best thing to do for a heart attack victim because EMTs can perform life-saving techniques.

Specifically, they can help physicians diagnose what's wrong with a patient before they ever arrive which can't happen if a heart attack victim or someone else is driving a personal vehicle to the hospital. 

Most ambulances across the country today now have advanced technological medical equipment on board which allow EMTs to perform routine tests which in years past could only be performed at the hospital.

For example, now EMTs can perform an EKG, and email the results to the emergency room or a physician's mobile device so a diagnosis can be made quickly.

This allows heart attack patients like Greg Cromartie to bypass the emergency room altogether and be taken directly to the catheterization lab to immediately undergo a life-saving procedure.

Also, in many smaller community hospitals across the country where the catheterization lab may not be fully staffed overnight or on weekends, getting advance notification from the EMTs can mobilize cath lab technicians who are on-call to immediately get to the hospital and prepare for the patient's arrival.

"Time is muscle," McDonald said.

Greg Cromartie gave the hospital permission to show us video of his blocked artery which triggered his heart attack, as well as video recorded following the procedure which showed full restoration of blood flow.
"The longer that muscle goes without a blood supply, it starts dying off and that won't always come back," McDonald said.

The sooner blocked vessels are opened, the better chance for your survival and recovery from a heart attack, but it all starts with one simple action.

"I wouldn't be here today if she hadn't called 911, and the paramedics brought me to the hospital," Greg Cromartie said.

A few years ago, about 56 percent of all heart attack patients arriving at Baylor Medical Center-Garland either drove themselves, or had someone else drive them to the hospital rather than calling 911.

This prompted the staff at Baylor Medical Center-Garland to launch an aggressive community outreach campaign called "Survive, Don't Drive" which urges residents to call 911 as opposed to driving their loved one to the hospital.

Today, only about 13 percent of heart attack victims drive themselves or are driven by someone else to Baylor Medical Center-Garland.

Carol Cromartie says she remembers attending a lunch and learn series at her place of employment when staff from the hospital made a presentation about "Survive, Don't Drive."

Cromartie says what she learned during that presentation resonated in her mind the morning her husband suffered his heart attack, and that's why she called 911.

Copyright 2013 America Now. All rights reserved.

Additional Information:
The following information is from Baylor Medical Center Garland:

  • About half of all people who are having a heart attack drive themselves to the hospital.
  • Why call 911? EMTs can transmit EKGs to the emergency room and the cardiologist. They can activate the catheterization lab before the ambulance arrives.
  • The faster an artery near the heart is opened, the less damage is done.
  • The national standard of care for the amount of time that should pass between the patient entering the doors of the hospital and undergoing a catheterization lab procedure is less than 90 minutes. At Baylor Medical Center Garland, the average time is 58 minutes.

The following information is from Greg and Carol Cromartie:

  • Greg had a heart attack at 2:37 a.m. on June 12, 2012. He says he immediately knew he was having a heart attack. He work up his wife, and she could tell he was exhibiting symptoms of a heart attack.
  • EMTs placed 12-leads on Greg while en route to the hospital (read below under electrocardiography for more about 12-lead).
  • Greg was 59 when he suffered a heart attack.
  • Greg now has seven stents in his heart (see below for more about stents). Once the stents were added or applied, it allowed normal flow of blood from his heart.
  • Shortly after arriving at the hospital, his heart stopped and he coded.

The following information about electrocardiography is from Wikipedia (Source:

  • Electrocardiography is also known as an ECG or EKG.
  • A 12-lead ECG (or EKG) is one in which 12 different electrical signals are recorded at approximately the same time and will often be used as a one-off recording of an ECG, traditionally printed out as a paper copy.

The following information about stents is from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (Source:

  • A stent is a small mesh tube that's used to treat narrow or weak arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart to other parts of your body.
  • A stent is placed in an artery as part of a procedure called angioplasty (AN-jee-oh-plas-tee). Angioplasty restores blood flow through narrow or blocked arteries. A stent helps support the inner wall of the artery in the months or years after angioplasty.
  • Doctors also may place stents in weak arteries to improve blood flow and help prevent the arteries from bursting.
  • Stents usually are made of metal mesh, but sometimes they're made of fabric. Fabric stents, also called stent grafts, are used in larger arteries.
  • Some stents are coated with medicine that is slowly and continuously released into the artery. These stents are called drug-eluting stents. The medicine helps prevent the artery from becoming blocked again.

The following information is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Source:

  • Each year, 300,000 cases of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA) occur in the United States. Almost two-thirds are treated by emergency medical services (EMS) providers. Community rates of OHCA survival are generally low (2%–40%). Quickly implementing the "chain of survival" is crucial to surviving OHCA, but many communities cannot measure how effectively EMS providers activate the chain. Without adequate performance measures, these communities lose opportunities to improve emergency cardiac care and save lives.

The following information is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website in a section titled "Heart Attack" (Source:

  • A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, occurs when a section of the heart muscle dies or gets damaged because of reduced blood supply. Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is the main cause of heart attack. A less common cause is a severe spasm of a coronary artery, which also can prevent blood supply from reaching the heart.
    • It is important to seek treatment for a heart attack immediately. Otherwise, further damage to the heart muscle can occur and an irregular heart rhythm may develop.
    • Sudden cardiac arrest—the stopping of the heart—occurs when the heart stops completely. Unless treated, a person whose heart has stopped can die within minutes.
    • People who experience a heart attack need emergency care such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or electrical shock (defibrillation). That's why you need to act quickly once you notice the signs and symptoms of heart attack.
    • If you think you or someone you know is having a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately. Bystanders who have been trained to perform CPR or use a defibrillator may be able to help the victim until emergency medical personnel arrive. At the hospital, doctors can perform tests to determine whether a heart attack is occurring and decide on the best treatment.
    • If you've had a heart attack, your heart may still be damaged. This could affect your heart's rhythm, pumping action, and blood circulation. You may also be at risk for another heart attack or conditions such as stroke, kidney disorders, and peripheral arterial disease. But, there are steps you can take to lower your chances of having future health problems.
    • Your doctor may recommend cardiac rehabilitation, which is a program that can help you make lifestyle changes to improve your heart health and quality of life. These changes may include taking medication, changing what you eat, increasing your physical activity, stopping smoking, and managing stress. Also, be sure to talk with your doctor about everyday activities. He or she may want you to limit work, travel, sex, or exercise.
    • Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.1 People of all ages and backgrounds can get the condition.
  • About 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year–that's 1 in every 4 deaths.1
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. More than half of the deaths due to heart disease in 2009 were in men.1
  • Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease, killing more than 385,000 people annually.1
  • Every year about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these, 525,000 are a first heart attack and 190,000 happen in people who have already had a heart attack.2
  • Coronary heart disease alone costs the United States $108.9 billion each year.3 This total includes the cost of health care services, medications, and lost productivity.
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for people of most ethnicities in the United States, including African Americans, Hispanics, and whites. For American Indians or Alaska Natives and Asians or Pacific Islanders, heart disease is second only to cancer. Below are the percentages of all deaths caused by heart disease in 2008, listed by ethnicity.4
  • During 2007–2009, death rates due to heart disease were highest in the South and lowest in the West.
  • Knowing the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack is key to preventing death, but many people don't know the signs.
  • In a 2005 survey, most respondents—92%—recognized chest pain as a symptom of a heart attack. Only 27% were aware of all major symptoms and knew to call 9-1-1 when someone was having a heart attack.
  • About 47% of sudden cardiac deaths occur outside a hospital. This suggests that many people with heart disease don't act on early warning signs.6
  • Heart attacks have several major warning signs and symptoms: Chest pain or discomfort, Upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach, Shortness of breath and Nausea, lightheadedness, or cold sweats.
  • High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease. About half of Americans (49%) have at least one of these three risk factors.7
  • Several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices can also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, including: Diabetes, Overweight and obesity, Poor diet, Physical inactivity and Excessive alcohol use
  • Lowering you blood pressure and cholesterol will reduce your risk of dying of heart disease. Here are some tips to protect your heart:
    Follow your doctor's instructions and stay on your medications.
    Eat a healthy diet that is low in salt; low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol; and rich in fresh fruits and vegetables.
    Take a brisk 10-minute walk, 3 times a day, 5 days a week.
    Don't smoke. If you smoke, quit as soon as possible. Visit and for tips on quitting.
  • A heart attack happens when the blood supply to the heart is cut off. Cells in the heart muscle that do not receive enough oxygen-carrying blood begin to die. The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart.
  • Every year about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack. Of these, 525,000 are a first heart attack and 190,000 happen in people who have already had a heart attack.1
  • About 15% of people who have a heart attack will die from it.
  • Almost half of sudden cardiac deaths happen outside a hospital.
  • Having high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol, smoking, having had a previous heart attack or stroke, or having diabetes can increase your chance of developing heart disease and having a heart attack.
  • It is important to recognize the signs of a heart attack and to act immediately by calling 911. A person's chance of surviving a heart attack increases if emergency treatment is administered as soon as possible.
  • The National Heart Attack Alert Program notes these major signs of a heart attack:
    Chest pain or discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center or left side of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. The discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
    Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
    Shortness of breath. Often comes along with chest discomfort. But it also can occur before chest discomfort.
    Other symptoms. May include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness.
  • If you think that you or someone you know is having a heart attack, you should call 911 immediately.
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