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Carroll Hospital celebrates 5-year anniversary of performing emergency heart attack procedure

The ache started in Bob McQuin's back and shoulders, and within a few minutes, he was sweating profusely.

Soon, the pain spread to his chest.

It was 1:45 a.m. on Oct. 15, 2008, a date and time his wife, Beth McQuin, remembers clearly. The early morning pain turned into an ambulance ride to Carroll Hospital Center, the closest hospital from their Mount Airy home.

Earlier that year, the hospital partnered with the University of Maryland Medical Center to bring emergency angioplasty to patients experiencing a serious type of heart attack, called ST segment elevation myocardial infarction, or STEMI. The procedure is a lifesaving one - it restores blood flow through the blocked arteries. During heart health month, hospital officials, patients, cardiologists and more celebrated the STEMI program's five-year anniversary at a reception Thursday in the hospital's lobby.

To date, more than 400 patients suffering from a heart attack have received emergency angioplasty at Carroll Hospital Center. And on Oct. 15, 2008, McQuin was the second person to have the procedure performed in a dire situation at the hospital.

"Who knows what would have happened if it weren't for Carroll," he said, and then expressed his immense gratitude to have the procedure completed within 77 minutes of him rolling through the emergency department's door.

That's because time is muscle, McQuin said his doctor told him. During his heart attack, he lost 2 percent of his heart's muscle function - which he said is low because the emergency angioplasty procedure was performed so quickly.

Before the hospital's partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center that allowed the procedure to be done on an emergency basis, patients had to be admitted to the emergency department. It took an average of three hours for them to be admitted and then transferred to another hospital that would perform the lifesaving technique, hospital President Leslie Simmons said at the event.

Now, it takes an average of 68 minutes from when the patient walks through the hospital's door to a physician's inflation of an angioplasty balloon inside the blocked artery, according to Simmons. And that takes a number of people working in tandem to do.

"That care team is extensive," Simmons said at the event. "It's those sea of maroon scrubs that surround your stretcher during that vulnerable time."

And there's even more, Simmons said as she rattled off physicians, emergency department staff, cardiac rehabilitation and others.

More than five years ago, current CEO and former president John Sernulka chatted with David Zimrin about starting up the program. It was implemented "seemingly effortlessly," Zimrin said at the event, although he knows there was an immense amount of work in securing the financing, staff, protocol and equipment.

"This has been the most rewarding thing that I can think of," said Zimrin, interventional cardiologist and medical director of the emergency angioplasty program.

And there's a reason behind that: Being able to perform emergency angioplasty stops a heart attack and saves a life, he said. Yet, there's another way lives can be saved, and that's the responsibility of those witnessing a potential heart attack.

Family and friends should call 911 when they suspect their loved one is having a heart attack. And people shouldn't be afraid to perform CPR by pumping on the person's chest until the emergency medical services personnel arrive.

"That's where we can make a huge difference in saving lives in this situation," he said.

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