The importance of calling 911 during a heart attack

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States. It includes heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure. As February is American Heart Month, Memorial’s Dennis Hoover and Tony Miller, Yakima County’s EMS Manager, talked about the importance of calling 911 during a heart attack on KIT 1280 on Feb. 24, 2015.

What should I do if I see that someone is having a heart attack?

A heart attack is when there is a loss of blood flow and oxygen to the heart muscle. The first thing people should do if they see someone is having a heart attack is call 911.

  • On average, data shows that calling 911 gives a 20-minute head start to the administration of treatment than if a patient arrives by private vehicle. In addition, there is the risk the patient could lose consciousness while driving him or herself or while being driven by a family member or friend, who would be unable to help them.
  • It’s not just about getting a ride to the hospital.
    • EMS can start intervention upon arrival to the patient – whether it’s CPR to keep blood flowing to the brain and other vital organs, or an AED.
    • The patient can be monitored while being transported to the hospital.
    • EMS can notify the hospital prior to arrival so the hospital staff prepare for the patient. If it’s the middle of the night, that means the heart team has already been notified and is already en route to the hospital to meet you there.
  • Every minute that passes from the time of on-set of chest pain, more heart muscle dies and the likelihood of long-term damage to the heart increases. This directly effects short- and long-term survival.


Why wouldn’t someone call 911?

  • Some people aren’t sure they’re having a heart attack or stroke. They don’t want to make a big deal about it. They don’t want to be viewed as weak, or they fear ridicule if it turns out to be less serious.
  • Some worry about the financial cost of the ambulance ride. Most insurance policies cover emergency treatment, but there is no guarantee. Out-of-pocket expenses vary greatly among insurance carriers. But the costs that can arise from medical complications from delaying treatment can be far higher, as can the cost of having a worse outcome.

How big a problem is heart disease in the Yakima Valley?

Major cardiovascular diseases – heart disease and stroke – are the leading cause of death in Yakima County.


Each year over 100 people in Yakima have a serious type of Heart Attack (called a STEMI) that requires treatment in a cath lab in less than 90 minutes.  Only a handful of these are a cardiac arrest, where CPR or an Automatic External Defibrillator (or AED) might be used.

  • Only a heart monitor, called an EKG,  can determine if the chest pain is this serious form of heart attack (STEMI)
  • Only about 1 in 3 (33 percent) people in Yakima with the STEMI type heart attack call 911 for EMS response. EMS start treatment and perform the EKG within a few minute of arrival and can help diagnose a Heart Attack before reaching the hospital.

Frequently asked questions:


What should I do if I have a heart attack in Yakima?

Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital is categorized as a Level 1 cardiac center and Level 2 stroke center by the Washington State Department of Health, which are the top categories in our region. The timely services for heart attack and stroke are unsurpassed by any other hospital in our area.

What is cardiac rehabilitation?

Cardiac rehabilitation (also called cardiac rehab) is a medically supervised program of exercise, education and support for people with heart disease to improve their health. People who can benefit include those who have had a heart attack within the past year, congestive heart failure, angina and heart surgery or a heart procedure.

Is cardiac rehabilitation available in Yakima?

The cardiac rehab team at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital includes doctors (such as your primary care doctor, your surgeon, and a cardiologist who will monitor your plan and progress), specially trained cardiac rehab nurses, and dietitians or nutritionists. This team also includes a care coordinator who will track your care and navigate insurance concerns.

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