News Release: Research

Feb. 9,  2009

New Year Brings New Lease on Life for Atlanta Resident

Call it a case of incredible luck, perfect timing – or both, but Atlanta resident David Griffin can say his outlook for the new year may be a little brighter than others after suffering –- and surviving –- a heart attack on New Year's Eve.   
   
Griffin, a software sales executive with IBM, had just finished a 30-minute swim at the Athletic Club Northeast near Emory University Hospital when he experienced a deep, sharp, stabbing pain in his left shoulder –- classic signs of a heart attack. A few minutes later, pain began to travel from his shoulder down his left arm and into his chest. He felt dizzy so he rested in one of the lounge chairs in the shower area and his whole left arm and left side of his chest went completely numb.  

"Something's wrong,"Griffin told a man in locker room. Luckily, the club had a defined emergency process in place. Even more lucky for Griffin, David DeLurgio, MD, FACC, director of electrophysiology at Emory Crawford Long Hospital, was getting ready to leave the club in his Emory scrubs when someone approached him and told him a man might be having a heart attack.

Griffin recalls,
"Dr. DeLurgio was the first person I saw walking through the door."

DeLurgio asked the club to call 9-1-1 and to get its defibrillator, and then checked Griffin
's blood pressure. After that, DeLurgio set in motion a chain of activity that would have Griffin inside a hospital and inside a catheter lab reopening his blocked artery within an hour.  

"Emory University Hospital was the closest hospital, and I alerted them that a patient would be coming in and that he might be having a heart attack,"says DeLurgio, who is a member of the Emory Heart & Vascular Center. "When the paramedics got there they did an EKG, which showed in fact that Mr. Griffin had suffered a heart attack.

"Jake Green, an Emory interventional cardiologist, activated the catheter lab and protocol so we'd save as much time as possible,"continues DeLurgio. "Once he got into the ambulance my job was over. However, while I was in the parking lot getting ready to leave, paramedics came running after me and said Mr. Griffin was in full cardiac arrest."Because Griffin was experiencing ventricular fibrillation, DeLurgio applied shock several times on the way to Emory University Hospital, and as they moved into the ER.

While Griffin was undoubtedly lucky to have DeLurgio present while experiencing a heart attack, he may count the fact that his heart attack happened in Atlanta as another stroke of good fortune, thanks to the recently implemented T.I.M.E. (Timely Intervention for Myocardial Emergencies) project.

This one-of-a-kind initiative makes it possible for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to transmit life-saving data to local Atlanta hospitals in order to shorten the time to treatment and increase a heart attack victim's chance of survival. The cooperative project is sponsored by five hospitals: Atlanta Medical Center, Emory Crawford Long Hospital, Emory University Hospital, Piedmont Hospital and Saint Joseph's Hospital, as well as the American Heart Association.

All four EMS systems operating in Fulton County (Grady EMS, Rural Metro EMS, Hapeville Fire Department and Atlanta Fire Department ECHO Units at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport) also are participating in the program. A critical component of the program is a full-time Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) - Paramedic educator who works directly with EMTs to ensure appropriate responses to cardiac emergencies. Data is then collected to assess delays in treatment and their causes in order for quality improvement measures to be implemented.

"The Atlanta TIME Project is the first cooperative urban program in the United States developed to provide the most rapid response to a cardiac emergency by improving every step of care from the onset of symptoms to treatment at the hospital," says Bryan McNally, MD, emergency medicine physician at Emory University Hospital and co-director of the TIME program. "The time from the onset of the heart attack to the opening of the artery is critical in reducing heart damage and improving survival."

When Griffin arrived at Emory, he had already been resuscitated numerous times says Christopher U. Cates, MD, FACC, director of vascular intervention, Emory Hospitals.

"We found him to have multiple blockages including a total obstruction of a coronary artery, which was causing the heart attack,"says Cates. "We performed a procedure called a thrombectomy (sucking out the blood clot with a special device), and then angioplasty and stenting with a special drug eluting stent. This was followed by placing a balloon pump to rest and support his heart and circulation to help him recover from the large heart muscle damage."

Griffin says,
"I remember Dr. Cates telling me, ‘You tried to check out on us a couple of times, but you have more living to do.'When Dr. DeLurgio visited me later in intensive care, where I was for four days before I went into non-intensive care for two days, he told me I was fortunate and blessed. Unequivocally, he did save my life."

"In our job we do things we know help people,"says Dr. DeLurgio. "That's our job and it has always been a very gratifying feeling. But there is something really different about being out in the community and seeing someone who really needs your help right then or else they will die. It made me feel good that I was able to help in his hour of need.

"Everything had to happen with a lot of people doing their jobs — the paramedics, the ER, the way the cath lab responded,"says DeLurgio. "It worked the way we wanted it to. I don't think he would have made it if I weren't there to help and the Emory system wasn't incredibly prepared."

Griffin notes,
"The biggest lesson I learned is that your heart's health cannot be measured by singular testing techniques. You must create an aggregate view of your heart's overall health. Developing a relationship with your cardiologist helps you understand the ‘total picture'of your heart's health."

Learn more during Heart Month from Emory Healthcare's "Make Everyday Count"

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