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ASHEVILLE, N.C. (Dec. 18, 2012) – As a 78-year-old woman sat with her husband in the parking lot of Highlands-Cashiers Hospital debating whether the “indigestion” she was experiencing warranted emergency care, she was moments away from an abrupt heart attack. Upon entering the emergency room, the woman suffered a heart attack that stopped her heart. The staff then performed immediate CPR, shocked her and stabilized her. She was swiftly air-lifted to Mission Hospital and survived, thanks in large part to the catheterization team that opened her blocked artery and to the hospital’s therapeutic hypothermia protocol used for cardiac arrests.
Mission Health will soon bring this life-saving treatment to patients in rural western North Carolina, as it implements therapeutic hypothermia at its four member hospitals and aids in bringing the protocol to other regional hospitals. Mission Hospital, the flagship hospital of Mission Health, has used the procedure since 2007 and has demonstrated a significant increase in survival rates as a result.
Each year about 383,000 out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrests occur, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). The chance of survival after cardiac arrest in rural North Carolina is about five percent. Since implementing the therapeutic hypothermia protocol, Mission Hospital’s survival rate in heart attack patients has increased to 35 percent, according to William Hathaway, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Mission Hospital.
“We are pleased to extend access to this life-saving procedure by bringing it to all of our member hospitals,” said Hathaway. “Providing this protocol to patients in the rural communities that Mission Health serves will not only increase their chance of survival after a heart attack but also prevent permanent brain damage.”
Therapeutic hypothermia, also known as “Code Freeze,” involves infusing intravenous ice cold saline and using chilled water blankets to lower body temperature after a cardiac arrest. When administered within six to eight hours after a cardiac arrest, therapeutic hypothermia significantly increases a patient’s chance of survival and reduces the risk of neurological damage often caused by the sudden rush of blood back through the body after resuscitation.
“Timing is of the essence when administering therapeutic hypothermia,” said Eileen Lipham, Chief Nursing Officer and Administrator of Clinical Services at Highlands- Cashiers Hospital. “In cases like our patient, who was just moments away from a heart attack, those crucial first hours mean the difference between life and death.”
Also crucial to survival is recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack and seeking emergency treatment, as almost half of sudden cardiac deaths happen outside a hospital, according to the CDC.
Most heart attacks start slow, with mild pain or discomfort in the chest, one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach. Other symptoms like shortness of breath, breaking out into a cold sweat or experiencing nausea or lightheadedness can occur with or without discomfort in the chest. Women are more likely than men to experience some of these heart attack symptoms without chest pressure. These symptoms can be hard to distinguish, causing people to wait too long before getting help.
These hard-to-diagnose symptoms nearly caused a tragic event for the woman experiencing “indigestion” in the parking lot at Highlands-Cashiers Hospital. Choosing to go into the emergency room and, ultimately, receiving therapeutic hypothermia was a precaution that saved her life. Now, others throughout western North Carolina will have access to the same technique close to home.
“We are proud to be able to institute therapeutic hypothermia throughout our entire network and offer patients in rural communities improved access to care,” said Frank Castelblanco, Director of Cardiac Emergencies at Mission Health. “This is yet another important step to achieving our BIG(GER) Aim: to get each patient to the desired outcome, first without harm, also without waste and with an exceptional experience for the patient and family.”
About Mission Health
Mission Health, based in Asheville, N.C., is the state’s sixth-largest health system and the region’s only not-for-profit, independent community hospital system governed and managed exclusively in western North Carolina. In 2012 Mission Health was named one of the nation’s Top 15 Health Systems by Thomson Reuters – the only health system in North Carolina to receive this recognition.
Mission Health, which traces its roots in the region back to 1885, operates five hospitals, numerous outpatient and surgery centers, and the region’s only dedicated Level II trauma center. Its medical staff consists of more than 1,000 physicians and is certified in over 50 medical specialties and sub-specialties. Mission Health has seven Centers of Excellence: Cancer, Heart, Mission Children’s Hospital, Neurosciences, Orthopedics, Trauma and Women’s Health. Mission Hospital, located in Asheville, is the system’s flagship hospital and is licensed for 730 beds. It is the regional referral center for tertiary and quaternary care and is the busiest surgical hospital in North Carolina. It also includes Mission Children’s Hospital– the region’s only children’s hospital. Other Mission Health member hospitals include Angel Medical Center in Franklin, Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine, McDowell Hospital in Marion and Transylvania Regional Hospital in Brevard. With approximately 8,800 employees and 700 volunteers, Mission Health is dedicated to improving the health and wellness of the people of western North Carolina. For more information, please visit mission-health.org.