Avera Medical Minute: STEMI Heart Attack drill

Sioux Falls, S.D. - Taking care of your health and your heart seems like a simple task.

But, for women, signs of a heart attack don't always show up in the common ways.

“Women have just as high of a risk of heart disease as men do,” Avera Family medicine physician Dr. Kari Hultgren said.

A heart attack strikes someone about every 43 seconds and many women don’t know it.

“They have a little bit more mild symptoms,” Hultgren said. “It can just be some jaw pain and some arm pain. It’s not always that crushing chest pain. I tell all of my female patients over 50, I don’t trust women over 50 with their symptoms. So if you have something weird or mild, bring it up because you might need to look into it.”

One type of heart attack is an ST-Elevation Myocardial Infarction, more commonly known as a STEMI.

“What that ST-Elevation signifies is a change in the physiology of the heart muscle,” Avera North Central Heart Institute Cardiologist Dr. Ray Allen said. “It’s not getting enough oxygen and it turns out the bulk of the damage happens within six hours.”

In the event of a cardiac emergency, doctors at Avera want to make sure they are prepared.

Every couple of years they perform a STEMI Heart Attack drill.

In the drill, Cindy Pirrung goes through the steps of a normal patient.

She doesn't feel great after a workout so she heads to Avera to see if she might have the flu.

Still nearly one hour after her first symptoms started, Cindy has no idea that she might be experiencing a heart attack.

“Where do you have your pain right now?”

“It’s really in the back kind of in my left shoulder and then a little bit in my jaw,” Cindy said. “No chest pain. I just feel like I can't get my air and I’m not feeling right.”

Her symptoms though, are red flags for doctors.

After a trip down to the ER and an EKG, the doctor’s fears were confirmed.

“Well Cindy, this does look abnormal. So it does look like you are actually having a heart attack. So there is some damage going on with the heart.”

“It did kind of hit home,” Cindy said. “I got a little choked up there.”

In medicine, time is muscle.

Doctors waste no time getting Cindy to the Heart Hospital.

“So we're going to move fast. We’re going to go to the cath lab.”

“The quicker you can open the artery, the more heart muscle you can save,” Allen said. “If we can open those quickly we can minimize the damage.”

To help minimize the damage during the event of a cardiac emergency, doctors want to get the blockage removed in 90 minutes or less.

“It’s actually kind of scary and I think about that,” Cindy said. “I’m in health care so I think about that sometimes. You tend to pooh pooh your own symptoms.”

So looking back, when did Cindy start to notice something might actually be wrong?

“Of course they recognized my symptoms right away going up the steps as did myself, but you feel like it’s really not happening to you,” Cindy said.

Doctors with Avera said these drills are essential to being prepared in case of a real cardiac emergency.

“It’s one of the more rewarding things we do,” Allen said. “As you see, it truly is a team effort and its people at each spot along the way making a difference and it adds up.”

These STEMI Heart Attack drills are also done at Avera so they can maintain the hospital's accreditation as a chest pain center.