New Techniques, Technology Helping Las Vegas Heart Attack Victims

Las Vegas Fire and Rescue races to the scene of a heart attack victim. Firefighter and paramedic Mark Shaffer says he responds to heart attacks on almost every shift.

“We average about 18 to 20 calls at our station,” he said. “Cardiac, respiratory arrest is a pretty common occurrence.”

Once Shaffer gets the patient’s heart beating again, he has another job on that critical ride to the hospital. “Once we save the heart, it’s time to save the brain,” he said.

Iced saline and ice packs lower a patient’s body temperature. The technique cools off the body, stopping potential brain damage immediately.

The method is the result of recent training. “Our firefighters have been working tirelessly for the last two years,” said Las Vegas Fire and Rescue EMS Medical Director Dr. David Slattery. “It’s something for the community of Las Vegas to be proud of.”

Joe Patren suffered a sudden heart attack on the golf course last May. “We already played 18 holes. We were replaying another 18,” he said. He was treated with modern therapeutic hypothermia equipment at Valley Hospital. “It protects the brain from any damage from the toxins that build up after a cardiac arrest event,” said Valley Hospital Director of Emergency Services Jim Holtz.

Gel pads brought Patren’s body temperature down to 91 degrees, stopping brain damage. After his heart attack, he walked out of the hospital in good condition. “Back to where I was,” Patren said. “I’m playing golf once or twice a week, back to work five days a week, and everything is going just fine so far.”

The number of cardiac arrest patients who leave the hospital with little or no brain damage has skyrocketed in Las Vegas. According to the Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival, two percent of Las Vegas cardiac arrest patients experienced little or no brain damage in 2008. Today, that rate is closer to 25 percent.

Patren is one of the lucky patients, and he’s glad to be alive. “Hopefully, I won’t have any other problems,” he said.

The therapeutic hypothermia equipment is available at Valley Hospital, University Medical Center, Sunrise Hospital, and St. Rose Hospital-Siena. Not all EMT’s and medical transport companies have this equipment or training.

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